Alternatives to traditional prosecution play a huge role in the criminal justice system. There are various reasons as to why these alternatives exist. The first is they help to reduce increased criminal justice costs, reduce stigmatization/labeling, especially among young offenders, reduce mass incarceration, and to reduce the odds of recidivism. There are several alternatives to traditional prosecution. They include diversion programs, deferred prosecution, and deferred sentencing.
The basic principle of diversion programs is an offender “fulfils certain requirements, such as completing treatment, paying restitution, or performing community service, instead of being incarcerated and saddled with a lifelong criminal record” (Kubic & Pendergrass, 2017). Diversion programs target the underlying problems that lead to the offender committing the crime in the first place. In general, diversion programs are considered effective as they help improve long-term community safety and reduce the odds of an offender going back and committing the same crime. Diversion programs can either be formal or informal. In formal diversion programs, the offender is required to complete a program as a condition of diversion. On the other hand, in informal diversion programs, the offender is kept out of the justice system. Informal diversion programs apply in cases where the offender has committed minor offenses such as traffic violations.
There is a wide variety of diversion programs. They include teen/youth courts, mental health courts, restorative justice interventions, and truancy intervention programs. Teen courts are interventions designed to help the relatively young, especially first-time offenders. Juvenile offenders are “sentenced by their peers for minor crimes, offenses, and/or violations” (“Youth/Teen Court Diversion Programs,” n.d.). These offenses include theft, disorderly conduct, underage drinking, etc. Offenders taken to youth courts are aged between 11 and 17. Youth court diversion programs are considered effective as they actively engage the community. This partnership of the community and the justice system helps increase awareness of the community’s delinquency issues. As a result, members of the community can help address the juvenile issues in their community. One of my major concerns when it comes to juvenile courts is their informality. The informal proceedings benefit juvenile offenders. However, this informality can result in the offender’s rights being overlooked in cases where the defendants and their parents are not aware of their rights.
Mental health courts are diversion programs designed to ensure the public safety of offenders with mental illnesses. They are also designed to better the lives of people with mental illness in the community by ensuring that they receive community treatment. Apart from ensuring the offender’s well-being, this program is also designed to enhance community safety and reduce recidivism. For offenders to be considered for this program, their offenses need to be linked with mental illness. The major disadvantage associated with this program; is the time it takes for the diversion process to be complete. It takes longer for an offender with mental illness to be enrolled in a mental health court than it takes for an offender without mental illness to be processed under the traditional criminal justice system (Husman, 2013).
Restorative justice interventions are designed to involve the community, the offender, and the victim. They elevate the role of the victim and the community while at the same time holding the offender accountable. The parties involved discuss the crime and create a consensus on what the offender needs to do to repair the victim’s harm. Restorative justice diversion programs are designed to ensure the offender takes responsibility for their actions and understand the harm they caused. This discourages them from repeating the offense in the future. My major concern about restorative justice interventions is that professionals are left out of the process more often than not. As a result, the process lacks legal legitimacy. Restorative justice is also not an effective way to prevent recidivism.
The final diversion program is the truancy intervention program. Truancy is the act of being absent from school without permission or a good reason. Traditionally, when a student is accused of truancy, the Family Court holds truancy hearings. On the other hand, a Truancy Diversion Program does not involve a hearing. A team is put together to help the student develop good attendance habits. This is achieved through education and treatment programs where necessary. The program is designed to ensure students take accountability for their actions and understand the consequence of being absent from school. One of my major concerns when it comes to truancy diversion programs is their benefits can be short term (Dambo & Gulledge, 2009). As a result, they do not prevent recidivism.
As already mentioned, apart from diversion programs, we also have other alternatives to traditional prosecution. One such alternative is deferred prosecution. In this form of prosecution, the prosecutor brings the charges against the defendant but agrees not to charge them in court as long as they agree to certain conditions such as doing community service or attending counseling sessions. A deferred prosecution is an informal agreement between the prosecutor, the defense lawyer, and the defendant. Once the defendants meet their end of the bargain, the charges against them are dropped. On the other hand, if the defendant fails to meet their end of the bargain, the state can then move forward and charge them for their original offenses and for violating the deferred prosecution agreement. My major concern with this type of prosecution is that they help offenders avoid the consequences of their actions, and as a result, they are likely to repeat the offense.
The final alternative prosecution method that is going to be discussed in this paper is deferred sentencing. It is also referred to as a delayed sentence. In this form of prosecution, the court provides the charged offender with an opportunity to serve a probationary period prior to sentencing. If the defendant accepts the probation period and successfully completes it, the court reviews their files and conduct, and based on the findings; the court may dismiss the charges against the defendant. If the defendant does not successfully complete the probation period, the court can then pass sentence on him or her. For a defendant to qualify for a deferred sentence, they need to enter a guilty plea. The defense attorney and the prosecutor also need to provide written consents indicating they agree with the court’s decision to offer a deferred sentence. While a deferred sentence has its advantage, it does pose a similar concern to the one posed by a deferred prosecution; the defendant avoids the consequences of their actions. As a result, they may complete their probation successfully and have their case dismissed and go back to repeating their offenses.
In conclusion, the different alternatives to traditional prosecution such as diversion programs, deferred prosecution, and deferred sentencing have numerous advantages over traditional prosecution. One such advantage is they prevent mass incarceration reducing criminal justice costs. However, they each pose different concerns, which, when not properly addressed, can have a negative impact on the intended outcome.
Dembo, R., & Gulledge, L. M. (2009). Truancy Intervention Programs: Challenges and Innovations to Implementation. Criminal justice policy review, 20(4), 437–456. https://doi.org/10.1177/0887403408327923
Husman, A.A. (2013). The Impact of a Mental Health Court on Participants: The Professional’s Perspective. Sophia, the St. Catherine University repository website. Retrieved from https://sophia.stkate.edu/msw_papers/194
Kubic, M.W. & Pendergrass, T. (2017). Diversion Programs Are Much cheaper and More Effective Than Incarceration. Prosecutors Should Them.
Youth/Teen Court Diversion Programs. (n.d.). U.S Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved from https://www.ojp.gov/feature/youthteen-court-diversion-programs/overview
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