Pretrial Diversion: The Premature Quest for Recognition

Pretrial diversion has been one of the most enthusiastically promoted criminal justice reforms of recent years. There are more than forty well-funded diversion programs in operation dealing with more than 10,000 criminal defendants each year. Three federal commissions have referred favorably to diversion and grant programs of both the Justice Department and the Department of Labor which have actively fostered the creation and expansion of diversion programs. Several states are considering legislation to establish diversion as a formal element of the criminal justice system and federal legislation is currently pending. Many advocates of diversion claim that the concept has been empirically established as an effective reform. Their conclusions are typically based on program self-evaluative studies which, on their surface, appear to suggest the successful achievement of reform goals. In fact, however, these studies offer little reliable support for the suggested conclusion. Amid the general enthusiasm, several observers have begun to question both the concept of diversion and its record of goal achievement. Although the questioning is often no more than tentative, it nevertheless suggests that a variety of issues should be closely examined before diversion can be safely implemented on a broad basis. Current data does not support the belief that diversion achieves its stated goals, and further, suggests the possibility that diversion may in fact be detrimental to defendants’ interests.