Criminal justice reform is sweeping across America, and rightfully so. With prisons grossly overpopulated, and America now the world leader of incarceration, changes must be made. One facet of this issue is bail reform. Most visibly from New York, the bail debate continues to heat up. While defendants deserve better options, especially for non-violent and drug offenses, marginalizing bail creates a host of additional problems. California’s Proposition 47 is begging to show flaws with crime in the area rising and some of the most vocal opposition coming form law enforcement. This energy for reform could be better directed, as many of the nation’s diversion programs are proving immensely successful, particularly when the programs get creative and pragmatic.
Opportunity As Punishment
The guiding principle of the diversion programs is that the defendant is presented with an option: enter a program designed for accountability and to provide help, where they can avoid conviction and prison, or face the charges. If the program is not completed or the defendant is non-compliant, the offer is rescinded and they go through traditional court proceedings.
Help For The Hopeless
The LA Times reported from the diversion program, drug court, last year, where a number of success stories were documented. Among them a young woman stated “for the first time since she was 13, her life wasn’t run by” drugs. Another man cried with the realization the he won’t have to allow his life to “end with an overdose.” These stories are a limited cross-section, showing a fraction of the benefits from this type of program. Unfortunately, with the passing of Prop. 47, offenders are released without this option, thus the stakes are not as high and the likelihood of recidivism is increased.
Interestingly, a new paradigm is emerging through the Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court. Here, veterans with legal issues, many with mental health concerns, are enrolled in a special diversion program specifically designed with their needs in mind. With this program, much like drug court, the recidivism rate are reduced drastically. The likely conclusion could be that with more specialized diversion programs, and not radical bail reform, those who are suck in vicious cycles of the criminal justice, might find a way out.