Diversion is an effective alternative to prison for low-level offenders.
In the effort to fix our broken criminal justice system, local prosecutors already have a powerful tool in their toolbox—diversion. Diversion allows individuals to avoid criminal charges if they follow a prescribed program. In a diversion, prosecutors agree not to pursue charges against an individual who would otherwise face prosecution, provided that the individual follows a prescribed program of treatment, services, restitution, or community service.
Keeping 9,803 Kansans,
many of them non-violent drug offenders
or individuals with mental illnesses,
in prison cost taxpayers $244 million in 2017.
Diversion is not widely used in Kansas, making up just 4.6 percent of all cases in the state.
Kansas prosecutors have sole discretion over when to grant diversion. Sadly, local prosecutors rarely use diversion. Only 4.6 per cent of all felony cases in Kansas are handled through diversion. Data from the U.S. Department of Justice shows that, nationally, over 9 percent of all felony cases are sent to diversion. That means that Kansas prosecutors use diversion at a rate just half that of the national average.
There are enormous disparities in the use of diversion across the state. Some local prosecutors refuse to offer diversion at all. Even some of the largest jurisdictions in the state—where caseloads strain resources, jails are overcrowded, and diversion could help alleviate some of this stress—use diversion at very low rates.
These differences emerge because each prosecutor establishes an independent diversion policy. Diversion is not standardized or uniform. Each prosecutor approaches it differently; the application process, decision criteria, and even the offenses for which a diversion may be considered all vary widely by county.
Small, common-sense fixes to the current system would result in greater use of diversion.
Require statewide use of a single uniform diversion application form.Local prosecutors should continue to have broad discretion over diversion programs in their own counties. State law and members of the community should encourage prosecutors to use diversion more widely. Steps that would encourage increased use of diversion include:
- Require prosecutors to make all defendants aware that they can request diversion. Currently, defendants without attorneys may not be aware that diversion is an option.
- Require prosecutors to provide a written explanation to the defendant when a diversion request is rejected.
- Collect data on diversions requested, denied, and granted. Current data on diversion is limited to the number granted. No demographic data is currently available.
- Dramatically reduce diversion fees. Participants are charged fees that vary widely by county and discourage participation.
- Garner support from local community members, encouraging prosecutors to treat diversion as a preferred option for non-violent, low-risk offenders. Prosecutors should be especially encouraged to use diversion when offenders are experiencing a mental illness.
Greater use of diversion will strengthen communities and reduce costs for taxpayers.
Expanding the use of diversion will have enormous benefits for Kansas. Communities are safer and stronger when those who need services receive them, rather than being sent to prison. Individuals who participate in diversion programs are able to remain with and provide for their families, make meaningful contributions to their communities, and avoid the lifetime consequences of a felony conviction.
In addition, increased use of diversion would benefit taxpayers. If Kansas use diversion at the same rate as the nation as a whole, it could result in 750 fewer people going to prison every year—reducing the prison population by 8%. The reduced government spending on prisons would save taxpayers over $6.8 million annually.
Individuals who participate in diversion programs are able to:
→remain with and provide for their families,
→make meaningful contributions to their communities, and
→avoid the lifetime consequences of a felony conviction.