Engaging Misdemeanants in Jail Diversion Programs

One of the biggest challenges in jail diversion work is engaging misdemeanants, especially repetitive ones.  In addition to all the behavioral health issues they may have, there often is little incentive to opt into diversion programs when they are facing only time served or very short jail sentences.  It is often an ethical dilemma for their legal representatives to encourage them to enter programs that may require one or two years of court supervision when they would have very little jail time.  In the face of these obstacles, can engagement be successful?

Based on recent data from the Transitional Case Management program run by CASES in Manhattan, the answer is clearly yes.

The 178 defendants enrolled in the program between 2007- 2010, had an average of 27 lifetime arrests with 3.6 arrests in the year before enrollment.  In the year after enrollment, there was a 33% reduction to 2.5 arrests. What is even more impressive is that 85% of those who completed the program remained in voluntary case management services at the end of the court mandate.

What were some of the keys to success?  First, the defendants had same day appointments walking across the street immediately after their case was dismissed.  A second key element was the staff flexibility.  If an enrollee showed up two hours late for an appointment, they were still seen.  If they missed a couple of appointments, but then showed up, they were welcomed.  Many other features of the program contributed to these successes, but the bottom line is that successful engagement of repetitive misdemeanants can be done with the right attitude and the right staff.

Criminal justice, Diversion