Diversion…at a price

This NY Times article, “After A Crime, The Price of a Second Chance,”  looks at adult diversion programs run by prosecutors (as opposed to drug courts or mental health courts where a judge is in charge). They put together information on the statutes and fee schedules in 225 diversion programs in 37 states and interviewed more than 150 prosecutors, defense lawyers, defendants and experts.

The conclusion: because prosecutors have wide latitude to design the programs, different jurisdictions have different rules, resulting in substantial inequities for defendants.

“Diversion is intended to relieve overburdened courts and crowded jails, and to spare low-risk offenders from the devastating consequences of a criminal record. It mostly applies to nonviolent cases that make up the vast majority of crimes — offenses like shoplifting, drug possession and theft. There are now diversion programs in almost every state.

But an examination by The New York Times found that in many places, only people with money could afford a second chance. Though diversion was introduced as a money-saving reform, some jurisdictions quickly turned it into a source of revenue.

Prosecutors exert almost total control over diversion, deciding who deserves mercy and at what price, The Times found. The prosecutors who grant diversion often benefit directly from the fees, which vary widely from town to town and can reach $5,000 for a single offense. In a country where 27 million households make less than $25,000 a year, even $500 can be prohibitive.”

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