Diversion in the Criminal Justice System

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29 February 2016

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Diversion has been known to be called, “the easy way out”, or “a slap on the wrist”, but diversion entails more than an offender saying, “They got an easy way out”. According to the book diversion can be a type of rehabilitation, “The National Academy of Sciences defines it as “any planned intervention that reduces an offender’s criminal activity” (Walker 2008, pg 251). Most criminal activity is done by people from the ages of 14 and 24. The main goal of rehabilitation programs is to reduce crime sooner than later the book refers to it as, “planned intervention program, that might include counseling, education, job training, or some other program” (Walker 2008, pg 251). Diversion is meant to help keep people out of the criminal justice system; due to the fact most of them are not violent offenders. It refers to people that are not a serious threat to society, but made a wrong choice and it is their first time offending. Using diversion, the courts hope that it will not only keep people out of the criminal justice system, but it will help them, rehabilitate them, or try to resolve the problem. It also is an additional way to keep from overcrowding jails, courts, and any kind of correction institution. In doing this the courts can focus on more serious offenders. According to the text book, “diversion is a planned intervention with a treatment component and the goal of getting offenders out of the criminal justice system as early as possible” (Walker, 2008,pg.262).

In diversion the offender is given a jail sentence as in “11/29” if the offender does not commit any more crimes then they will be expunged from the criminal justice system and then they will have a clean record. However, if they recommit a crime, they will have to serve 30% of their original given jail time. For example- 30% of “11/29” in jail, would be 109 days. When given diversion, the offender is usually given probation as well. With probation the offender usually has a class that he/she has to attend that is part of their rehabilitation process. According to the peer reviewed journal, “Probation and Diversion: Is There a Place at the Table and What Should We Serve states that, “Three times as many offenders participate in probation and/or diversion programs than incarcerated. Probation and diversion programs are considered “alternative” punishments, and public policy has not focused on how to strengthen community corrections.

New developments on targeting specific behaviors through the use of theoretical models of supervision can improve outcomes, or at least delay further offending?” (Taxman, 2010). Probation is a way to stay in touch with the offender, by having them come in and have meetings with their probation officer. The reasoning for this is to keep the officer up to date with the offender and the offender’s progress. They make sure that the offender is doing everything they are suppose to do, paying court cost, trying to find a job, not getting in any more trouble, and to just make sure the offender stays on top of their priorities. The classes and programs are meant to help the offender in many ways such as; realizing that they made a mistake and to see how they could possibly better themselves, or whether it’s hanging out with a different crowd, or just saying “NO Thanks”.

Diversion has been around for centuries. According to the text book, “Diversion was one of the great reforms of the 1960s” (Walker, 2008, pg.262). This statement backs up some of the history behind diversion. A article concludes more information about the history of diversion, “The concept of diversion of juveniles from the juvenile justice system has a long history in the scholarly literature as well as in federal juvenile justice policy. The theoretical background of diversion is based on the “labeling” principles dating back to Tannebaum (1938). The scholarly debate was further developed by the research of Becker (1963) as well as Lemert (1951). Becker (1963) argued that labeling by certain social groups in power have a detrimental effect on juveniles. The work of Lemert (1951) discussed the effect of secondary deviance of juveniles that were processed through the juvenile justice system and contributed to the argument that the system, instead of helping, may actually contribute to further delinquent acts of juveniles” (Marsh, 2005).

This makes complete sense why this would be thought of in the way it was. Tannebaum, Becker, and Lemert were all right in the idea that juveniles should be dismissed from the criminal justice system, to be given another chance. They also said that if juveniles were not dismissed from the criminal justice system that “labeling” could take affect very easily. If a juvenile is proven guilty an certain crime, that could essentially lead the individual to living up to their “label” and lead them to commit more deviant acts. This is why they try to give them another chance and treat them with a diversion program of some sort. An additional quote from text book states that, “Commission gave it strong endorsement in 1967, and in the 1970’s an estimated 1,200 diversion programs were established” (Walker,2008,pg.262). Given this information one could conclude that during the 1960’s the criminal justice system was establishing more of a variety of ways to help people and trust them with a second chance. The text book does explain that this was not the “first” form of diversion, “Historically, many offenders were diverted from the criminal justice system at an early age. Police officers routinely chose not to arrest someone even though there was probable cause, and prosecutors dismissed the cases when prosecution would not serve the “interest of justice”. We call this old diversion” (Walker, 2008,pg. 262).

Police officers have been practicing diversion for a long time. They trusted that the offender would not recommit once they had been caught once, considering it was their first time, or they only committed a minor crime. However, the diversion that is used today is more of a modern approach. Programs are offered, that instills goals in people, and is managed by a professional staff that offers assistance and treatment. According to Taxman, “These models are important since they help provide a meaning to the core practice of diversion/supervision programs—face-to-face contacts. Moving away from generic contacts to ones that are focused on specific behavior holds promise in elevating the value and importance of probation and diversion programs in correctional policy and practice”(Taxman,2010). This is how program and treatment are today. The professional workers are more involved and tuned in to their clients’ problems. All of this is to try to keep people out of the criminal justice system. The more people that are kept out of the system, the better off the system will be. Diversion puts that fear into someone, because they know if they mess up again then they have to serve 30% of their jail time. Diversion is meant to act not only as a “second chance”, but also a deterrent to not commit future crimes.

Has diversion been proven to help people? Everyone is different and diversion helps some people and for others it does not work. For the people it does not work out for, are usually trying to ride out the system, getting in trouble, getting longer probation sentences, according to a academic journal, “Developing restorative practice: contemporary lessons from an English juvenile diversion project of the 1980s.” states that, “. As a result, the projects quickly became skilled in negotiating solutions in the interests of, and according to the wishes of those affected, while also enabling young people to acknowledge their own responsibilities and to take action accordingly. These successes have not been built upon effectively” (Smith,425-438,2011). In this sense diversion has not been successful; the people that were involved in this research had not taken diversion seriously and had been irresponsible for the actions they had taken. On the other hand, some people do take it seriously and it has been proven successful. Diversion can be tough, according to an article concerning diversion programs, “Maryland’s diversion program for alcohol-impaired drivers (i.e., PBJ) allows a driver to plead guilty or nolo contendere, or to be found guilty in a criminal proceeding but have judgment stayed pending completion of a probationary period. Conditions of probation may include participation in treatment, an alcohol education program, selfhelp groups (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous), and/or the ignition

interlock license restriction program. Drivers who violate the terms of probation (including having another alcohol-related offense) may have the original charge reinstated and be further prosecuted for violating probation” (Ahlin).

This is an example of a diversion program, it explained the proceeding s and the conditions that went along with the program and what would happen if the offender failed to participate successfully. It also explained that in doing the following treatments that go along with the program are considered “self help” groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous and this can be a way to help someone while they are under probation and eventually help them be expunged out of the criminal justice system in the near future. Diversion programs are initially a way to help individuals make better choices in the future, and to have hope in the offender that he/she learned their lesson the first time. Another time of diversion program is called Adolescent Diversion Program (ADP). This program is based on juveniles. This particular program is to help juveniles be more involved and it emphasizes on community service work. The article states, “a community centered paradigm where students are taught to work with communities to better understand contexts surrounding a social problem, as opposed to merely volunteering to provide a service to a community.

The Adolescent Diversion Project (ADP), which has been operating for over 30 years, demonstrates critical community service through the type of relationship built between students and the local community” (American Journal of Community Psychology, 2010). This program focuses on young adults and to try to steer them away from crime by having them do community service work and be more involved. An article inquires that, “Diverting juvenile offenders from the traditional juvenile justice system has been influenced by various theories but most prominently, labeling theory and differential association theory. Differential association theory’s basic premise is that through association with deviant groups, individuals are more likely to become deviant themselves. Juveniles incarcerated with other juvenile offenders will interact and are more likely to join deviant groups” (Marsh 2005). This is a good reason why the ADP program deals and focuses on juveniles. If more attention is paid to young adults and they are stopped right when they get in trouble it could be a factor in reducing crime, because if they are stopped and corrected while they are young, they will not commit when they get older, or possibly age out of it.

People debate whether diversion and diversion programs work, in the sense of reducing further crime and deterring people from recommitting according to an article, “Scholars have examined which types of sanctions are more likely to reduce recidivism and have found that punitive approaches such as conviction or jail do not significantly deter future incidents of DWI (Taxman & Piquero, 1998; Wheeler & Hissong, 1988; Yu, 2000)” (Alhin). In this quote it explains that jail time, or convictions do not always work as a “deterrent” for the offender when he/she gets out of jail. Due to this, they will have to use other significant deterrent applications, or at least try them. They could use probation as a deterrent instead of putting everyone in jail. Putting everyone in jail causes a big overcrowding issue and some people they put in jail are not huge criminals, they may have just committed a minor crime.

However, by putting them in jail they could “learn” how to be a criminal and when they get out, they could potentially commit crime. The article extends to explain how the deterrence theory could work in this situation, “Consistent with deterrence theory (Beccaria, 1764/1963), swift license sanctions such as suspension and revocation have been shown to reduce DWI recidivism (Ross, 1991; Yu, 1994; but see Yu, 2000), and less punitive, treatment-based sanctions can also reduce recidivism among drivers with an alcohol disorder (Taxman & Piquero, 1998)” (Alhin). This quote states that by using the deterrence theory, revocation has been proven to reduce DWI recidivism. It also says by using more “treatment” based corrections could help the offenders not recommit drinking and driving. If the offenders can receive help with drinking intensively, or get help with drinking and driving, this could keep people out of jail and also save lives by not having people out on the road drinking and driving.

Diversion has been around for a very long time, and over the years there have been many studies, researches, and experiments done to try and understand what the most effective way to make diversion programs work. There have been several people that have conducted studies to see what they could encounter on the subject of diversion. One group an author states was, “Kammer and Minor (1997) evaluated a program that intervened in cases of juveniles ages 11 to 18 years charged with status or low-level delinquent offenses and no prior record. The program was 16 months long and only handled 12 offenders at a time. Of the 86.2% (N = 81) who graduated, 67% were rearrested during the evaluation follow-up. Of the juveniles originally arrested for status offenses, those that recidivated were charged with delinquent acts” (Marsh 2005).

This statistics are just from one study, but over half of the offenders were rearrested, so this complies that their study on diversion programs were not successful enduring that when juvenile offenders receive diversion, in their study over half were arrested again. However, an academic article states “Although much research has been conducted to test diversion methods, few have taken advantage of true field experimental conditions (Campbell, 1969; Severy & Whitaker, 1982). Unfortunately, utilizing true experimental designs in the juvenile justice setting can have serious political implications” (Severy & Whitaker, 1982). Yet the absence of a control group design prevents testing from a baseline. The methodology of the current project allowed the comparison of the groups to each other and the comparison of the different treatment interventions to a baseline control group” (Marsh 2005). In the quote it explains that when research is not done in the field, using experiments with offenders could lead to trouble when it comes to trying to understand diversion and its effectiveness. This is an important part of research, because one is learning through the actual offenders and studying their ways of doing things. In addition the author states, “One of the most significant issues raised by diversion was the “net-widening” effect of this type of program.

In an evaluation of 11 California diversion projects, Bohnstedt (1978) found that one half of the 3,871 clients served would not have been processed by the system if court diversion programs were available” (Marsh 2005). Another study conducted encountered juveniles and the use of tobacco. The juveniles that were caught using tobacco were given options of different punishments, “Juveniles cited for use of tobacco were given the option of going to court, paying a fine, or attending a single 2½-hour diversion course that discussed the harms of tobacco use” (Marsh 2005). Most of the juveniles chose to pay the fine instead of attending the class. The article intended that this study the juveniles that attended the class and the juveniles that paid the money had no change in behavior, or attitude. However, the juveniles that paid the fine, they were proven to have lower tobacco usage. With having this knowledge, one now would know that using the right kind of treatment is very help when doing research in diversion based programs, because if something is off, or missing it could through the whole experiment off. Another issue that was brought up is having diversion everywhere in the United States, because the overcrowding in jails is one of the biggest, money rackets U.S. citizens and the government deal with. If diversion programs were offered everywhere then it could possibly cut down on the incarceration rates in the United States,

“Treating youth in the community diversion is seen as a way to reduce further involvement with the juvenile justice system. The idea has been particularly intriguing because of its added benefit of relieving an overburdened judicial system” (Whitaker, Severy, & Morton, 1984, pp. 175-176) (Marsh 2005). If diversion was used more often and courts were able to keep more people out of jail by using diversion programs, it would cut down on the tax payers that pay for people to stay in jail and possibly help the people get rehabilitated. Diversion is a good idea for first time offenders and helps them steer clear of trouble, if they actually follow the rules and do not recommit any offenses. Diversion programs have been proven to help people, but it has also been proven to not show any difference in the offender’s actions. I believe that aging out of crime has a lot to do with juvenile offenders and even adult offenders. However, it is a personal choice whether, or not they choose to learn their lesson by completing diversion programs and move forward with their lives.

Ahlin, E. M., Zador, P. L., Rauch, W. J., Howard, J. M., & Duncan, G. D. (2011). First-time DWI offenders are at risk of recidivating regardless of sanctions imposed. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(2), 137. Patrick, S., & Marsh, R. (2005). Juvenile diversion: Results of a 3-year experimental study. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 16(1), 59-73. Smith, Roger. Contemporary Justice Review, Dec2011, Vol. 14 Issue 4, p425-438, 14p; Abstract Taxman, Faye S.. Victims & Offenders, Jul-Sep2010, Vol. 5 Issue 3, p233-239, 7p; Abstract Walker, Samuel. 2011. Sense and Nonsense about Crime, Drugs, and Communities. Wadsworth Cengage Learning. Seventh Edition. 251-263.

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StudyScroll. (2016). Diversion in the Criminal Justice System. [Online]. Available at: https://studyscroll.com/diversion-in-the-criminal-justice-system-essay [Accessed: 30-Sep-2023]

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