Pre-Arrest Diversion for Adults – A Model Program

Pre-arrest diversion, also known as deflection, civil citation and other names, is gaining momentum as an informed strategy to create an alternative to arrest for minor offenders who are not a serious threat to public safety. This approach addresses several community challenges such as over-reliance on zero-tolerance policing and prosecution, using arrest as a remedy for social problems, ensuring equality of justice and reducing the consequence of an arrest record on the individual.

Effective pre-arrest diversion programs have five components: building community support through partnerships, addressing public safety, ensuring justice equity, providing access to needed services and data driven evaluation to ensure positive outcomes. Model programs embed all five of these areas into a local program design.

Partnerships and Community Collaboration

A pre-arrest diversion program is successful when the entire community embraces and supports the model. It is critical that all segments of the community have an opportunity to contribute to program design and are informed about program progress. The first step involves building support and collaboration among key stakeholders including:

  • Social services agencies – Community substance use disorder treatment agencies, mental health providers, housing agencies and others
  • Local justice agencies – Law enforcement, state attorney, public defender and the courts
  • Local elected officials – City and county leaders
  • Community groups – NAACP, Urban League, faith leaders, NAMI and others

Through a series of meetings with key leaders, group meetings to build consensus, collaboration with justice agencies, and public hearings to obtain community input, the framework for a community adult pre-arrest diversion program can be developed and implemented. An effective strategy is to establish an Advisory Council to guide the development and implementation of the program, the change management processes, policy implementation and program oversight. Advisory Council members should include:

  • Law enforcement
  • Prosecutor/State Attorney
  • Community leaders
  • Advocates
  • Concerned citizens

The core concepts of implementation of a pre-arrest diversion program include:

  • Implementing a multi-year pilot project
  • Designating a lead agency to operate the pre-arrest diversion program
  • Addressing whether program fees should be implemented and what those might be, and ensuring services are not denied due to the inability to pay
  • Establish a process for screening and referral to services, when warranted, as an essential component of a pre-arrest diversion
  • Developing and implementing a strategy to inform the public about the program
  • Establishing that those who successfully complete the program will not have an arrest record
  • Establishing policies and expectations related to community service requirements, victim restitution, or restorative justice procedures

Public Safety

The State Attorney is the final authority on charging individuals for an offense, thus making them a key player in local efforts to develop a pre-arrest diversion program. Law enforcement officers have inherent risks any time they confront someone for committing a crime, no matter how serious or minor the crime. They also have a responsibility to victims to ensure offenders are held accountable. Because of this, pre-arrest diversion programs must have an appropriate level of accountability for law enforcement to embrace. A well-grounded pre-arrest diversion program option provides a solid alternative to arrest, frees up the officer to be back in the field sooner, reduces crime and drug use and enhances community-police relations.

In a model program, representatives from the local justice agencies work together to determine program design, eligibility criteria, appropriate sanctions, how access to services will be made available, and how data will be collected and analyzed. Model programs address the following:

  • Establish local eligibility criteria that list what specific offenses are eligible for participation in pre-arrest diversion. Misdemeanor, or low-level non-violent felony offenses, that are often eligible for program implementation may include, but are not limited to:
    • Petit theft
    • Possession of alcohol by underage person
    • Selling/providing alcohol to an underage person
    • Possession of marijuana or small amounts of other illegal substances
    • Simple battery/assault
    • Disorderly conduct
    • Trespass
  • Set other criteria that may guide eligibility such as:
    • Person resides in jurisdiction (e.g. city, county, circuit)
    • Previous arrest or citation
    • Individual is cooperative and agrees to complete the program
    • Participation in the program is voluntary
  • Establish the number of citations allowable
  • Establish that unsuccessful completion of the program by a participant will result in a referral back to the state attorney for disposition
  • Establish and implement training for law enforcement officers on the value of the program and how to use this alternative to arrest
  • Provide for ongoing structured review of program data to determine how the program is being implemented, individual officer use of the program, and fairness of application
  • Establishes a mechanism for accountability such as community service, victim restitution and other interventions such as apology letters and educational courses.

Justice Equity

Pre-arrest diversion must serve a diverse population that include all genders, ethnicities, religions, cultures, abilities and socio-economic backgrounds. Training, policies, and procedures must be developed that ensure access to the pre-arrest diversion program and services are equitable to all eligible participants. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are paramount to any successful pre-arrest program. Evidence from many reviews show data indicating disparities in the criminal justice system, and pre-arrest diversion is an early intervention process which provides the opportunity for eligible individuals to avoid an arrest record if they complete community-based interventions.

Model pre-arrest diversion programs should prioritize the program being established as fair and ensure all segments of the community have equal access to participate. When engaging individuals, it is important to be aware of the following areas to ensure equitable access to programs and services:

  • Working to understand cultural differences
  • Building trust
  • Recognizing and appropriately addressing stigma and language barriers
  • Embedding best practices in eligibility criteria, policies and procedures
  • Educating staff, stakeholders, the community, the individual, and legislators on pre-arrest diversion and its benefits

Workforce inclusion and setting a culturally competent work environment are augmented by staff training, data collection and analyzing data for program improvement.

  • Training on DEI should be available to policy makers, law enforcement officers, community partners and stakeholders as well as any subcontractors who work with the program.
  • Communication by practitioners with diverse perspectives helps prevent and address DEI concerns.
  • Ongoing training, data collection and evaluation of data enables a snapshot of what is being done well and what can be improved upon.
  • Additionally, culturally specific programming enhances participant experiences and outcomes.

Access to Services

One of the primary goals of the pre-arrest diversion program is to reduce recidivism of those who participate in the program. Many individuals who come into contact with the justice system have service needs such as substance use disorders, mental health challenges, co-occurring disorders, inadequate or no housing, food insecurity and/or lack of employment. Often these issues are a contributing factor to the behavior and criminal activity of the individual. A key component of a model pre-arrest diversion is the creation of new pathways to connect participants in pre-arrest diversion to needed services.

A model pre-arrest diversion program provides a needs screening as part of the assessment process and encourages the individual to access care when a service need is indicated. A variety of services should be built into the program design including:

  • Assessment- An evidence-based assessment tool is used to determine what intervention services are needed and appropriate for each participant
  • Educational classes on decision making, anger management, etc.
  • Substance use disorder treatment including engagement with mutual help groups (such as AA or NA)
  • Mental health care
  • Housing assistance
  • Referral for other support services as needed
  • Case management

Outcomes and Evaluation

An essential part of a model pre-arrest diversion program is an on-going evaluation that not only tracks outcomes, but also ensures continuous improvement of the model. An independent researcher is recommended to serve as the principal investigator for such an effort. A comprehensive evaluation includes both quantitative and qualitative analysis of the pre-arrest diversion program. The evaluation will determine the impact of pre-arrest diversion on recidivism rates and the corresponding cost benefits to the community and the criminal justice system. Data to be collected and analyzed includes:

  • Participant demographics including race and gender
  • Citations issued by offense categories
  • Program completion rate by demographics and offense type
  • Re-arrest rate for successful program completers
  • Re-arrest rate for unsuccessful program terminations
  • Re-arrest by race/ethnicity/gender
  • Officers utilizing the program and for what offenses
  • Services recommended and utilized by participants
  • Profile of individuals seeking fee waivers
  • Cost avoidance as a result of program utilization
  • Participant feedback

Building a program evaluation design prior to the commencement of the program will ensure that the data collected will serve the needs of the community, will inform on program progress, and can be used to document the cost advantages and potential savings of the program.


[1] Frost, G. (2016, June 17). Pre-Arrest Diversion: An Effective Model Ready for Wide-Spread Adoption.

[1] De la Rosa, A. (2016, Nov). Building Support for Pre-Arrest Diversion Through Coalitions. https://www.communitycatalyst....

[1] Charlier, J. (2017). Deflection: A Powerful Crime-Fighting Tool That Improves Community Relations.

[1]. Charlier, J. (2017). Deflection: A Powerful Crime-Fighting Tool That Improves Community Relations. https://www.safetyandjusticech...

[1]Mauer, M and Ghandnoosh, N. (2014, October) Incorporating Racial Equity into Criminal Justice Reform. https://www.safetyandjusticech...

[1] McLellan, A., et al. (2000, October). Building Healthier Communities through Pre-Arrest Diversion.

[1] (2019, Dec.) Nadel, M., et al. An Assessment of the Effectiveness of Civil Citation as an Alternative to Arrest Among Youth Apprehended by Law Enforcement.

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