informal diversion | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

Informal diversion is the removal of a person from the criminal justice system or the juvenile justice system such that they do not have a criminal conviction or criminal record.

Informal diversion is a method used in the criminal justice system to address minor offenses committed by first-time or low-level offenders without a criminal conviction or record. The objective of informal diversion is to avoid the formal processing of the case through the court system, which can be costly and time-consuming, and to reduce the number of individuals entering the criminal justice system.

Informal diversion programs are typically offered by law enforcement agencies or court systems and involve the offender agreeing to certain conditions, such as community service or counseling, in exchange for the charges being dropped or not pursued. These programs are designed to hold the offender accountable for their actions while avoiding the negative consequences of a criminal conviction, such as difficulty finding employment or housing.

Informal diversion can be used in both the adult criminal justice system and the juvenile justice system. In the juvenile justice system, informal diversion is often used for minor offenses committed by juveniles who have no prior record. These programs typically involve counseling, community service, or participation in educational or vocational programs.

Informal diversion programs can be beneficial for both the offender and the criminal justice system. Offenders who successfully complete these programs are less likely to reoffend, which reduces the burden on the criminal justice system. The use of informal diversion programs also frees up resources that would otherwise be used to prosecute and incarcerate low-level offenders.

However, there are also potential drawbacks to it. Critics argue that these programs may not be equally accessible to all individuals, particularly those who are low-income or have limited access to resources. There is also concern that informal diversion programs may not adequately address the underlying issues that led to the offense, such as substance abuse or mental health problems.

Furthermore, there is a risk of informal diversion being overused, particularly for more serious offenses, which can undermine the criminal justice system’s credibility and public confidence. There is also a risk that such programs may be used to circumvent the legal process, particularly in cases where the offender is well-connected or has the resources to avoid prosecution.

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Last Modified: 04/08/2023


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