• Brianna Lozito

The Path Less Taken: Diversion Programs Offer the Opportunity for Holistic Change


Whether it is prostitutes in Louisiana, non-violent 18-25 year old men in Oklahoma, or incarcerated adults with mental illnesses in Texas, diversion programs are sweeping the nation as alternative options to incarceration. Diversion programs are innovative and require courts to accept that traditional methods and justifications of punishment are not working. Diversion programs take the option of incarceration for defendants who meet specific eligibility requirements away, and instead use a variety of support services and institutions to address underlying concerns and behaviors.

Diversion programs may offer medical services to those who have mental illness by locating a primary physician, a counselor, or a medical facility for intake, and assisting in filling out Medicaid coverage documents. Diversion programs for a prostitute could include working with a local organization to find health care, housing, job training, GED and education courses, and counseling either one-on-one or in a group setting. The purposes of these alternatives are to: 1) correct and assist the individual in identifying key issues and getting treatment; 2) offer an effective "out" to assist individuals locked in this cycle from constant fines and jail time; and 3) assist in lowering the number of people being incarcerated and money being spent on the population that is non-violent and arguably should not be incarcerated.

Success from existing programs has continued to grow. Cities who have chosen to prioritize diversion programs, such as San Antonio, have seen over 100,000 people diverted from jails and sent to medical facilities and providers who are able to put them on the path to recovery. Treatment programs have been found to reduce crime by up to 40%, and the drop can last up to 14 years. Individuals are given the tools to make healthy choices along with the support to maintain positive changes in their life.

Practitioners interested in diversion programs for their clients should consider a number of issues. Prior to discussing options with their clients, practitioners should inquire whether their city has incorporated diversion court as an option for offenders. Many eligibility requirements will be listed on court websites and often include that the offender is non-violent, is charged with a misdemeanor, has a history of mental illness or substance abuse, or is a juvenile. Repeat offenders for certain crimes such as prostitution, drug possession, theft, and public intoxication, may be eligible for diversion programs run through community groups and programs.

A client may be concerned that the program will not work for him, and the client may be wary that the program will not truly address his needs. Practitioners should have an open and honest conversation regarding what the expectations are for each diversion program. Additionally, it is important to recognize that diversion programs will only be successful if the client is going to buy into the expectations. For example, juvenile diversion programs may require clients to continue with their educational requirements, participate in group or individual counseling, and remain drug-free while out in the community. Clients must accept the terms of these programs and will sometimes be required to fulfill additional community service in lieu of financial penalties.

It is important for practitioners to recognize that these programs are not the same as probation or parole services. Diversion courts and programs have evolved over the past few years to reduce recidivism in a positive manner while correcting the underlying environmental and behavioral issues that clients face. This can be anything from lack of medication to stable housing and employment. Diversion programs must also come from a judge who supports the initiatives, which may be a tougher hurdle to cross at the end of the day.

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