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Pretrial Diversion - Results Of Drug Treatment, Employment, And Social Services

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Many of the earliest diversion projects were funded initially by the U.S. Department of Labor as an extension of its mandate to assist hard-to-employ workers. Although many project goal statements posited a relationship between unemployment and crime, it was not entirely clear that program sponsors were eager to link the success of their employment services to prospects of reduced recidivism. In this view, pretrial diversion was simply a strategy to gain early access to the economically disadvantaged at a time when the crisis of arrest might promote their receptivity to employment assistance. At the same time, the provision for a dismissal of charges in successful cases would eliminate the conviction record, an acknowledged barrier to employment prospects of young adults.

At the outset, adding social performance criteria to definitions of criminal conduct raised serious questions about the proper limits of criminal jurisdiction. Did the results of program services justify this intrusion? Again, the absence of appropriate comparison groups was a major problem in evaluating program performance. In the single available experimental evaluation, some improvements were recorded, but these could not be attributed to the effects of program participation since similar improvements were found among members of the control group.

In the final analysis, the pretrial intervention design failed to provide a fair test of the notion that employment services could accomplish their manpower development objectives. In the context of a ninety-day period of pretrial supervision, it was not clear that projects could do much more than develop stopgap employment—jobs that were clearly necessary to meet program criteria for a dismissal recommendation, but not sufficient to support expectations of sustaining significant or lasting change. At best, another line was drawn in the conflict between the goals of diversion and treatment.

In contrast to the early manpower-based programs, the drug court diversion model recognized that treatment duration was related to treatment outcome and typically required a minimum time in treatment of one year. Belenko reported that approximately 60 percent of participants were still in treatment after one year—a significantly higher retention rate than most out-patient and residential drug treatment programs (Belenko, 1999).

Has the increased intensity of treatment allowed programs to succeed in breaking cycles of drug dependency? Again, while under court supervision—and "unlike a traditional court judge, drug offenders may appear before the drug diversion judge twenty to thirty times during the course of the treatment plan" (Brown, p. 85)—programs have shown some improvement in rates of abstention and less frequent periods of relapse. Mirroring the findings on recidivism, however, post-program results have been mixed.

A majority of drug courts have also acknowledged the difficulty of successfully treating participants' addiction without attending to other social and economic needs. Accordingly, most programs provide vocational, educational, manpower, and other rehabilitative services. Once again, available data on the impact of these services are too limited to draw conclusions.

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