Issues / Diversion and Alternatives to Incarceration

Prosecutors serve as gatekeepers to the criminal justice system — they often decide who goes into the system, and who gets a second chance. They have a responsibility to use limited public resources wisely with the goals of promoting public safety and reducing harm.

Research has shown that public safety and community well-being are often best served by keeping people who commit low-level offenses out of the criminal justice system and ensuring that deep involvement with the criminal justice system is reserved for the most serious cases. Diversion and alternatives to incarceration provide ways for individuals who have broken the law to be held accountable without disrupting their ability to lead productive lives and contribute to their community.

Information and Resources

Diversion Strategies, Programs and Principles – A National Scan

This FJP compendium offers guiding principles for implementing alternatives to incarceration and developing diversion programs. The brief lists a sampling of programs currently in use across the country. When tailored to a jurisdiction’s unique needs, these programs can reduce criminal justice costs, limit unnecessary individual contacts with the justice system, and reduce the potentially harmful long-term consequences of such contacts, while also enhancing public safety.

LEAD Diversion — Evaluation Summary

This document reviews findings from four separate evaluations of the LEAD diversion program, reporting recidivism outcomes, criminal justice costs, housing and employment outcomes, and participant perception.

Speaking Out

District Attorney Discusses L.E.A.D: Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion”

Bernalillo County (Albuquerque, NM) District Attorney Raúl Torrez describes his plan to begin a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program that will save money, reduce recidivism, and help keep low-risk individuals out of the criminal justice system. Watch the video here.

“Prosecutive Winds of Change”

King County (Seattle, WA) Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky underscore the important role of prosecutors in promoting a sensible and fair justice system and describe how newly elected local prosecutors are pushing the criminal justice system away from “tough on crime” attitudes and toward new prevention-oriented thinking. Read more here.

Examples of Innovation

Florida Juvenile Citation Program

4th Judicial Circuit (Jacksonville, FL) State Attorney Melissa Nelson launched a new juvenile citation program, ensuring more youth will participate in Teen Court, where youth will be held accountable with minimal criminal justice system involvement and receive access to appropriate services. Read more here.

New Policy to Divert Marijuana Possession Cases from the Criminal Justice System in Harris County

Harris County (Houston, TX) District Attorney Kim Ogg implemented a new expansive marijuana pre-arrest diversion program. Read more here.

The King County (WA) 180 Program

The 180 Program is a community partnership and pre-filing diversion program that seeks to keep juveniles out of the criminal justice system. Read more here.

Manhattan DA Press Release Ending Criminal Prosecution of Low-Level Subway Offenses

Manhattan NY District Attorney Cy Vance announced his office will no longer criminally prosecute low-level subway misdemeanors unless there is a compelling public safety rationale to do so. Read more here.