RD838 - Interagency Workgroup on Local Criminal Justice Diversion Programs

Executive Summary:

Item 359 M. of the 2021 Appropriation Act required the Department of Social Services to develop an Interagency Workgroup, to include the appropriate offices and agencies of the Health and Human Resources, Commerce and Trade, Public Safety and Homeland Security Secretariat, as well as the Governor's Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. The purpose of the workgroup was to develop recommendations for local Criminal Justice Diversion programs that would provide alternatives to arrest, conviction or incarceration for lower-level offenses. The workgroup was tasked with discussing and addressing the need for human services (such as whole family strategies) as appropriate interventions for diversion. The organizing language of the amendment included the exclusion of Behavioral Health and incorporation of two-generation (“Whole Family") approaches as focuses for this workgroup.

As noted in the preface, this workgroup began with a detailed discussion of diversion broadly. Diversion occurs on a continuum, from pre-arrest to post-conviction. This workgroup was tasked with looking at diversion for adults, the inclusion of human services and whole family approaches in our recommendations, and the need to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion in any efforts that would be recommended. To those ends, there was considerable conversation around existing diversion programs and methods, the various types of crimes that have been included for diversion in the past in state or national initiatives, and different models for intervention that occur at various points on the diversion continuum. The clear consensus from all of these conversations was that any of those practices or interventions is most successful when developed based on local needs, desired outcomes, perceptions of risk/benefit, and the input of stakeholders at the table in that locality. Therefore, we are not recommending any specific interventions or program designs to be used in every locality. The majority of our recommendations are for pathways to additional planning and implementation that will allow localities to develop these interventions and processes themselves, with resources and direction to assist them.

The presentations and discussions of the workgroup resulted in five main themes, and five recommendations within those themes, all synopsized below and discussed in further detail in the closing section of the report: (1) diversion practices can produce multiple community benefits, and more pre-arrest diversion practices are needed; (2)local planning and implementation, with adequate support and resources but without pre-set requirements for interventions and methods, is key; (3) implementation of practices and interventions will include short-term and long-term strategies that should allow for innovation, and must be evaluated; (4)the evidence-based and risk/need/responsivity criteria, with an emphasis on risk-based rather than offense-based diversion, should be part of local planning; and (5)much like the makeup of this workgroup, diverse stakeholder participation at all levels (local planning and implementation, state support and leadership) will be required to create interest and outcomes that address community needs beyond public safety alone. These five themes are elaborated upon in Section 7 of the report.

Within the five themes introduced above, there are five recommendations from the workgroup, synopsized below and discussed in detail in Section 7 as well.

1) The General Assembly should consider funding to support resources (program designs, assessment tools, guidance/facilitation, direction) for community planning initiatives that can be pursued in any locality, with maximum flexibility and responsibility for the results of the planning work resting with the locality. As there are often dedicated sources of funding for some types of diversion (behavioral health, youth) already, this should be dedicated funding to complete local planning that includes identification of human services objectives. This planning will assess readiness of communities to pursue diversion, readiness of community partners to provide support, services, and leadership, and will identify the areas in which human service entities and criminal justice entities need development of additional processes and resources to implement local diversion programs effectively and with outcomes that reduce impacts on the community and those diverted.

2) The General Assembly should consider funding implementation of diversion practices at short-term and long-term stages, to include (not exclusively) focus on pre-arrest interventions and development of human services approaches (such as whole family/two-generation approaches). As there are often dedicated sources of funding for other types of diversion (behavioral health, youth) already, this should be dedicated funding to pursue both innovative and evidence-based human services practices that develop interventions based on local planning. These implementation activities should also be directly tied to the assessment of readiness through planning already completed.

3) The Governor should consider creating an interagency task force to ensure state level support for the local diversion initiatives and coordinate interests of diverse stakeholder group. The task force should include representation from state agencies and offices whose work includes criminal justice/public safety; human services; community service and development; and diversity, equity and inclusion. This group would develop ongoing recommendations and complete additional work on coordinated tools for planning and implementation, coordinate on development and administration of innovative diversion practices that bring human services, community needs, and public safety needs together, and identify barriers to the success of local initiatives that can be addressed at the state level (including pursuit of statutory framework changes, automatic expungement, etc.).

4) The interagency task force should create small working groups to develop immediately necessary tools identified by this working group (more details included in Section 7). As all of the recommendations revolve around the work and decision-making occurring at the local level and the support/direction occurring at the state level, there are many resources that would need to be developed if opportunities for planning and implementation arise.

5) The General Assembly should consider funding set aside for two purposes: (1) the development of specific interventions at the local level, after planning is completed and implementation has begun. These interventions will require innovation and flexibility to meet the needs of the community, and particularly for pre-arrest diversion practices, will be interventions/services that likely do not currently exist in the locality; and (2) data collection, analysis, and evaluation with independent third-party evaluators as additional evidence-base is developed through implementations.