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Pretrial Diversion - Alleviating The Burden On Court And Correctional System

drug caseloads programs participants

Proponents of many of the first diversion programs often cited the opportunities to relieve congested court calendars and overburdened probation caseloads as a central rationale for the development of intensive pretrial service alternatives. However, although these benefits were freely announced, they were seldom carefully explored. In fact, on the strength of their numbers alone, few projects could have demonstrated any significant reduction in court or correctional caseloads. Moreover, the diversion process itself still involved calendaring cases, with at least one and frequently two court appearances during the period of deferred prosecution.

Demonstrating the cost savings of the diversion approach proved equally problematic. Many programs handled limited caseloads and maintained a fairly costly service apparatus, resulting in high per capita costs. Even the lower-cost programs emerged as relatively expensive alternatives when program budgets were adjusted for the additional costs incurred by the court in processing unsuccessful cases. If the programs were truly functioning as alternatives to incarceration, justifying the expense would not be difficult. In the absence of a diversion alternative, however, available evidence suggested that few project participants would have faced a jail sentence.

Notably, reducing court caseloads was not a goal of the drug court, which sought instead to increase the court's attention to drug cases with dedicated courtrooms and judicial officers. Although many analysts have compared these costs with the costs of incarcerating drug-involved offenders, more often diversion has been an alternative to doing nothing: Many diversion participants have been first-time felony drug possession cases who would typically be placed on probation with minimal to no treatment or supervision. Demonstrating savings therefore requires demonstrating lower recidivism among drug court participants. As we have seen, this measurement task has thus far produced ambivalent results.

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