A new briefing from the Centre for Justice Innovation describes police community diversion schemes as having a wide variation in practice, funding and support with the result that people in some parts of the country are missing out on the opportuning to receiving support instead of a criminal prosecution.
The briefing, “Strengthening Community Diversion”, argues that the time for consistent coverage of community diversion schemes is now, with the roll-out of the new statutory out of court disposal framework providing the perfect opportunity.
What is community diversion?
For a considerable time, there has been a range of activity taken by the police in response to low-level offending which does not involve taking cases to court. The briefing uses the term pre-court disposals as an umbrella term for all this activity. Currently, there are three main types of disposals within this pre-court activity:
- Community diversion describes police-led, non-statutory disposals, most commonly community resolutions or activity recorded as an Outcome 22. Community diversion involves an individual involved in a low–level offending incident being offered short, simple programmes of rehabilitative, reparative or restorative interventions in exchange for avoiding being formally processed. These disposals can take place either pre-arrest or at the point of arrest.
- Out of court disposals describes those disposals which are set out in legislation. England and Wales is currently moving from an existing six tier statutory framework to a statutory two tier framework. From 2023 onwards, this statutory framework includes a lower tier disposal, the community caution,1 and an upper tier disposal, the diversionary caution.
- Deferred prosecution refers to a programme of rehabilitative interventions which a person can opt to participate in when they have committed a low-level offence. Enrolling in the programme pauses the prosecution of the offence, and depending on the scheme, the offence is either revoked, or the participant receives a less serious disposal. If the scheme is not completed, they are charged in court. The Chance to Change pilot, a deferred prosecution scheme, has recently finished, and the evaluation outcome will soon be published.
The Centre assembles a short summary of the evolving evidence for community diversion. There is strong international and domestic evidence that suggests that effective use of community diversion can both reduce reoffending and improve wider outcomes for people in contact with the justice system. Especially where community diversion is used as an alternative to a more intensive disposal, community diversion is likely to reduce the negative consequences of formal criminal justice processing. These consequences include the disruption to an individual’s life, education and employment brought on by prosecution, court sentencing and the ongoing and long term consequences of a criminal record.
Community diversion, by providing a shorter but effective response, also enables practitioners to focus limited resources on addressing the root causes of offending.
There is also emerging evidence that community diversion can also increase victim satisfaction, where community diversion places an emphasis on victim involvement and information provision. Research has found that victims often care most about the rehabilitation of the person who has caused them harm, and preventing the same thing happening to another person.
A number of community diversion schemes also include restorative justice programmes which are strongly associated with better outcomes for victims, such as a greater sense of satisfaction with the handling of their cases, receiving an apology that is considered meaningful and a decreased likelihood of experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
There is also promising evidence that community diversion can reduce costs to the criminal justice system.
Strengthening community diversion
The report makes eight key recommendations to support the roll-out of high quality community diversion schemes throughout the country. These are:
- Increase the attention given to diversion activity by the police inspectorate.
- Develop data collection guidance and standards.
- Include Outcome 22 within police detection rates.
- Incorporate community diversion into regular officer training.
- Develop training for Police and Crime Commissioners on community diversion.
- Commission a review into the full costs of diversion interventions.
- Commission more research on the long term impact of community diversion.
- Commission more research on effective diversion interventions, with a particular focus on young adults.
Thanks to Ashwini Chaudhary for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.