Beaumaster: Defining Diversion

Di-ver-sion: the act of turning (anything) aside from its course, or occupation or purpose. Webster dictionary.

Di-ver-sion: the act of turning (anything) aside from its course, or occupation or purpose. Webster dictionary.

Crime and punishment theories abound as to what methods of accountability produce the best results for public safety and rehabilitation. Some theories call for hash punishment for even the smallest of crimes. States following these theories generally have higher incarceration and recidivism rates. Minnesota has adopted the theory that graduated penalties and rehabilitation typically results in lower incarceration and recidivism rates.

Minnesota law requires every County Attorney’s Office to have a diversion program, to maximize public safety while minimizing intervention in the criminal justice system.

For years, diversion has improved outcomes and rehabilitated defendants in Rice County. The concept of diversion is based on the theory that more harm than good may be caused when first time offenders are mixed with hardened criminals. Diversion programs used to divert juvenile delinquents are often fundamentally different than adult programs. However, more often than not, adults and youth suffer from the same problems of chemical and mental health issues, which are often the underlying cause of their crimes.

In the last year, my office has expanded both the juvenile and adult diversion programs. A diversion program must hold an offender accountable and provide rehabilitation. If they qualify, offenders submit to the diversion programs voluntarily. The motive to participate is to avoid criminal charges and a criminal record. Most people seize the opportunity and respond with a sincere effort to change.

The principles used by my office in creating diversion programs include: improved public safety; healing and restitution for victims; relief to the courts, police departments and probation office; better outcomes compared to direct involvement with the courts; and, an opportunity for the offender to potentially avoid prosecution. Each Rice County diversion program has criteria for participation. Requirements of offenders may include:

  • Acceptance of responsibility by the offender

  • Chemical or mental health treatment if recommended

  • Education of the offender to prevent future offenses

  • Restitution to victims

  • Completion of community work service hours

  • Avoiding situations that may lead to committing another such offense

  • No contact with victims or other specified people

Successful completion of program requirements leads to a dismissal or reduction of criminal charges. Failure of program requirements leads to charges being reinstated and prosecuted, or sentences and penalties being imposed.

The juvenile diversion program used most often addresses issues of illegal consumption and use of controlled substances. The program includes parental involvement in hopes that education on the risks and dangers of such behaviors can be reinforced by parents. Diversion program costs are borne solely by the juvenile or their family at no cost to the County.

The Rice County Bad Check Accountability Program has been in place for almost ten years. The Sheriff’s Department and all other law enforcement agencies in Rice County, along with Chambers of Commerce and Retail Protection Associations work together to hold accountable those who write bad checks. Positive benefits of this program include: restitution to victims; lower investigation and prosecution costs; and, an increase in funds recovered from bad checks.

If eligible, the Traffic Diversion Program (for both adults and juveniles) is available to those who have received a misdemeanor level or higher level traffic ticket. After making an initial appearance in court, and after the County Attorney’s Office has determined their eligibility, the defendant and prosecutor enter into an agreement to dismiss the court case once the individual has completed an Accident Avoidance & Safe Driving course. The defendant is responsible for registering and paying for the course, completing the course in the required time frame, and sending the certificate of completion to the court. Only then is the case dismissed. Once the case is dismissed, it will not appear on the person’s traffic record.

This year, a Pre-Charging Diversion Program was developed, (to be implemented in 2013) resulting in increased public safety, increased restitution, lower recidivism rates and reductions in criminal case numbers.

Lower crime rates and fewer juvenile and adult defendants are good things. But, in the final analysis of success or failure of our diversion efforts, the true measure is found in community safety.    


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