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Diversion is a proven strategy for reducing crime.

Accountability comes in different forms. In some cases a conviction and sentencing is appropriate. In other cases, treatment, community service, and other requirements are the best option for rehabilitation and public safety.

Certain offenses can be better prevented by addressing the underlying issues of defendants. Diversion, an alternative to traditional prosecution, may offer a most efficient and effective approach to stopping recidivism and supporting stronger households and communities 

The Diversion Unit of the District Attorney’s Office works with the First Judicial District and community partners— on programs that address the underlying causes of unlawful or harmful behavior while still holding people accountable.  

When the common drivers of quality-of-life crimes — such as poverty, mental illness, substance use disorder, and sustained traumatic stress — are appropriately addressed, it makes our city safe. We address these underlying causes by connecting people to services, the system makes it possible for more people to lead healthy, productive lives – which makes our city safer. 

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“Used carefully, diversion prevents crime. It’s for decent people who deserve another chance.”

Larry Krasner
District Attorney
City of Philadelphia

ALTERNATIVES TO PROSECUTION & INCARCERATION: REFORM AGENDA

Years of overreliance on mass incarceration and punitive policies have not made our communities safer. 

Incarceration has proven to be a poor response to complex social problems like homelessness, mental illness, poverty, and substance use disorderOverincarceration also comes with high taxpayer costs, greater recidivism rates, and breaks families and communities in the poorest large city in the country.  

Repairing the harms of mass incarceration and unjust application of law enforcement requires making the criminal legal system truly fair and unbiased, centered on the goal of peace and safety in all communities. 

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Data Lab: Measuring Justice

To demonstrate the value and efficacy of diversion, we track:
  • Diversion offers and defendant acceptance rates.
  • Cases rejected for diversion by defendants that result in conviction.
  • Quality and impact of programs, including rates of completion, recidivism and improved health and social determinants.
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“We envision fewer diversionary programs that are easier for the public to understand and support.

More than that, we are designing programs that are anti-racist, anti-classist and anti-sexist.”

MIKE LEE
Supervisor
Diversion Unit

ALTERNATIVES TO PROSECUTION & INCARCERATION: OUR APPROACH

We typically pursue diversion when cases involve nonviolent misdemeanor crimes and a defendant who is strongly motivated to complete the assigned program.

By institutionalizing alternatives to prosecution and incarceration, we mitigate the moral, social and economic costs of mass incarceration that disproportionately harm poor communities and communities of color.

Diversion programs are designed to:

  • Address the underlying causes of unlawful or harmful behavior while holding people accountable;
  • Treat substance use as a public health issue and respond with smart harm-reduction practices;
  • Assist people in the criminal justice system with unmet mental or behavioral health needs by connecting them to community-based services; and
  • Reduce the collateral consequences associated with a criminal conviction.

We recognize not all who are arrested are dangerous. Where incarceration would cause more harm to individuals and communities, science- and community-based solutions serve to build public trust in the criminal justice system.  

Alternatives to Prosecution & Incarceration: What's Changing

Where mass incarceration fails, diversion can succeed in making our communities safer, healthier and more productive.

Wtake an individualized approach to justice in order to more effectively address drivers of crime and eradicate disparate outcomes for communities based on race, gender, and wealthBy treating people with humanity, not as problems or docket numbers, we seek to build a criminal justice system that makes communities healthier and safer.  

Our progress so far:

  • We’ve shifted presumptions. Prosecutors now must present compelling reasons why qualified defendants should not be diverted.
  • Diversion is more transparent and no longer at the discretion of only one person at only one checkpoint. More people throughout the process are apprised of diversion updates so they can flag cases from discovery to trial.
  • Cases involving a direct victim are now eligible for diversion. But alternatives to incarceration must take into account victims and witnesses, and their need for healing, restoration, and justice.

From the first packet they receive from our office, victims are informed of diversion and the possibility that their case could be diverted. Specially trained Victim/Witness Services coordinators in the Diversion Unit consult victims on restitution and, if requested, connect them to a Restorative Justice Facilitator.

  • We’re working on removing criminal history as an automatic barrier to diversion. This is so we’re less likely to miss someone who could benefit from diversion interventions.
  • In collaboration with our criminal justice system and community partners, we’re addressing substance use disorders as a public health concern, rather than a barrier to diversion eligibility, and improving access to different types of care and treatment.
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UNIT TEAM LEADERSHIP

Supervisor:
Mike Lee
[email protected]
Assistant Supervisor:
Audrey Westerman
[email protected]

The architects of diversionary strategies and the prosecutors, paralegals and staff responsible for their implementation are guided by clear values:
  • MERCY AND COMPASSION. We seek an appropriate balance between the mercy extended to defendants with compassion for the needs of victims of crime.
  • INDIVIDUALIZED JUSTICE. We implement a person-based approach and ensure every case is carefully and transparently considered for diversion
  • SELF-DETERMINATION. To the extent possible, we offer defendants the opportunity to participate in shaping the agreements imposed on them to promote accountability and responsibility for the path back to a productive, law-abiding future.