How Diversion Programs Can Benefit New Jersey Communities
Criminal behavior has many underlying factors, including adverse childhood experiences, poverty, poor educational attainment, mental health challenges, and substance abuse. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system frequently fails to take these factors into account by sentencing offenders with lengthy prison terms that ultimately do nothing to solve the underlying problem. One type of solution that’s gaining traction is diversion programs, which seek to address the underlying causes of criminal behavior to break the cycle of recidivism by providing participants with the resources they need to make positive changes in their lives.
Reduced Recidivism Rates
One of the most important benefits of diversion programs is that they can help reduce recidivism rates. Diversion programs offer first-time and non-violent offenders the opportunity to avoid incarceration and engage in constructive activities tailored to their unique needs instead.
For example, diversion programs often provide offenders with the opportunity to receive treatment and counseling for underlying issues, such as substance abuse or mental health disorders. By providing participants with the guidance and support they need to lead productive, law-abiding lives, these alternative sentencing options can help participants stay on the right path.
Decades of rising prison populations have made it abundantly clear that incarceration does not prevent an offender from re-offending in the future. In fact, each additional year of incarceration following a felony offense results in a 4% to 7% greater likelihood of an offender returning to the criminal justice system after the end of their sentence.
Studies have shown that diversion programs can be highly effective in reducing these recidivism rates. A 2018 study conducted in Harris County, Texas found that participants in diversion programs are 48% less likely to face a future conviction in the 10 years following their participation than those who go through the traditional criminal justice system.
Another study found that on a nationwide level, diversion programs for young offenders are 10% more effective in reducing the likelihood of a young person re-offending. To illustrate the widespread impact of this, one study found that youth undergoing traditional prosecution face more than twice the likelihood of being rearrested than those who participate in diversion programs.
Better Employment Outcomes
In addition to reducing recidivism rates, diversion programs can also lead to improved employment outcomes for participants.
Incarceration can impact a person’s job prospects in a number of ways. The time spent behind bars naturally results in a loss of work experience, which can be difficult to make up for after release. Employers are reluctant to hire individuals with criminal records, regardless of their qualifications or the nature of their crimes.
Diversion programs can help people overcome these obstacles by providing vital resources. A key component of many of these programs is job training and placement assistance, which can help participants find steady, gainful employment following their participation. And because diversion programs help offenders avoid the career-killing impacts of incarceration, these resources can go even further in helping participants find and keep a job.
The above-mentioned Harris County study found that offenders who participated in diversion programs had improvements in employment outcomes by 53% in the 10 years following their participation. In stark contrast to this is a study showing that each additional year of incarceration reduces an offender’s odds of employment by 3.6%.
These improved employment outcomes not only benefit participants but also the community as a whole. With more community members engaging in the local economy, local businesses can thrive and tax revenue can increase. And when parents with criminal histories are participating in the workforce and earning a stable income for their families, they are better able to break the cycle of poverty that frequently lies beneath the surface of many criminal behaviors. As a result, their children are more likely to follow in their footsteps, steer clear of crime, and participate as thriving members of society. These benefits only expand as generations go by, which can restore communities that have been dismantled by generational patterns of incarceration.
Relief of Pressure From the Court System
The American court system is tasked with dispensing justice in a fair and impartial manner. However, Morristown criminal defense lawyers know from experience that the system is often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases that come through its doors.
Diversion programs can help to take some of this pressure off of the already-overburdened court system. By diverting low-risk offenders away from the traditional criminal justice system and into these programs, there is more time and resources available to focus on those who pose a greater threat to public safety.
Not only does this help to ensure that the court system is able to function more efficiently, but it can also lead to improved safety outcomes for the community as a whole.
When judges and prosecutors can dedicate their time and energy to a smaller number of cases, they are able to make more sound decisions about who poses a threat to public safety and how best to protect the community. This reduces the likelihood of false convictions and improves the likelihood that the right to a fair trial is being upheld.
It also allows for greater transparency and accountability within the criminal justice system as there is more time to investigate cases thoroughly and ensure that all procedures are being followed correctly. This can instill greater confidence in the system among both defendants and victims, leading to a more just society for all.
Diversion programs can also lead to substantial taxpayer savings, and this doesn’t just include the cost of incarceration. For every dollar invested in a diversion program for young offenders, there is also a return in social benefits, such as healthcare costs and victimization expenses.
Incarceration is an incredibly costly endeavor, with the average annual cost in the United States exceeding $30,000 per prisoner. In contrast, many diversion programs are highly cost-effective, with some programs costing as little as $500 per participant.
While there is an initial cost to set up and administer diversion programs, this is typically more than offset by the savings generated by avoiding costly trials and jail sentences. In addition, defendants who successfully complete diversion programs are less likely to re-offend, which further reduces the costs associated with crime. As a result, diversion programs are a win-win for taxpayers and defendants alike.
Diversion programs are a smart and sustainable investment in New Jersey’s public safety. As Morristown criminal defense lawyers, we have seen first-hand the positive impact that they can have on the lives of our clients and their families.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, we can help you explore your options and determine if diversion is right for you. We are equipped to represent clients facing criminal charges throughout the state of New Jersey. Contact attorney Gregg Wisotsky at 973-898-0161 and begin taking your future back.