Expand Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion and Deflection Programs

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Introductory Paragraph

Diversion and deflection programs seek to re-direct, or channel people away from justice systems. The concept of diversion is based on the theory that processing individuals through the justice system may do more harm than good or may not be an appropriate response for someone with behavioral health needs.
While the exact number of diversion and deflection programs in the United States is currently unknown, their growth In communities has become accelerated by research showing that they can impact recidivism and help individuals avoid the consequences of having a criminal record.

Over the past few decades, much of the innovation in deflection and diversion has focused on individuals whose interactions with the justice system are driven by behavioral health needs. 

It is important to “deflection” and “pre-arrest diversion”’ as Deflection and pre-arrest diversion are two sides of the same coin—i.e., they are complementary practices of a systems approach at the intersection of first responders, Substance Use, Mental Health treatment, recovery support, and community. These two practices, always taken together as a single coin, are simply referred to as the “field of deflection.”  The following definitions of “deflection” and “pre-arrest diversion:”

Deflection is the practice by which law enforcement or other first responders (i.e., fire and EMS) connect individuals to community-based treatment and/or services when arrest would not have been necessary or permitted, or in lieu of taking no action when issues of addiction, mental health, and/or other need are present. Deflection is performed without fear by the individual that if they do not “accept the deflection” they will subsequently be arrested.

Pre-arrest diversion is the practice by which law enforcement officers connect individuals who otherwise would have been eligible for criminal charges to community- based treatment and/or services in lieu of arrest, thereby diverting them from the justice system into the community. Some pre-arrest diversion programs have policies that mandate holding charges in abeyance until treatment or other requirements, such as restitution or community service, are completed, at which time the charges are dropped. Although pre-arrest diversion is facilitated by justice system stakeholders (usually police and sheriffs but sometimes prosecutors or a local government agency), clients are diverted to community-based services.

Pre-arrest diversion programs should not be confused with prosecutorial diversion, which occurs after individuals have already been arrested and become involved in the justice system; in contrast, pre-arrest diversion occurs before the filing of charges.

The outcomes sought by diverting or deflecting individuals are generally three-fold:
1) reduce crime by connecting individuals with services that decrease the likelihood of future offenses by providing resources.
2) provide individuals with an opportunity (with assistance) to change the behaviors that brought them to the attention of the justice system.
3) assist by meeting Individuals at their self-identified needs and reduce utilization of limited justice system resources by reducing re-arrest, recidivism and future justice system expenditures.

Key Information

Pre-Arrest Diversion

Police Treatment And Community Collaborative- The Police, Treatment, and Community Collaborative (PTACC) is an alliance of practitioners in law enforcement, behavioral health, community, advocacy, research, and public policy, whose mission is to strategically widen community behavioral health and social service options available through law enforcement diversion. The purpose of the Collaborative is to provide vision, leadership, advocacy, and education to facilitate the practice of pre-arrest diversion across the United States. PTACC is the national voice of the deflection and pre-arrest diversion and field.[1]

PTACC is organized into strategic areas[2]

  1. Children and Families Strategy Area: Community, Diversity, and Equity Strategy Area:
  2. International Deflection and Diversion Strategy Area:
  3. Policy and Legislation Strategy Area:
  4. Public Safety Strategy Area:
  5. Research Strategy Area:
  6. Stigma Reduction Strategy Area
  7. Treatment, Housing, and Recovery Strategy Area:

Pre-Arrest Diversion

Early diversion programs provide an alternative to arrest for individuals with substance use and/or mental health disorders, as well as for low-risk offenders, and allow these individuals to avoid the collateral consequences that result from arrest and contact with the criminal justice system. This movement is data-driven and is grounded in the belief that public safety and public health approaches must work in tandem to support vulnerable individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) and/or mental illness (MI). Instead of shifting responsibility or cost from one system actor to another, this collaborative approach creates additional tools and supports for those on the front line, appropriate treatment for eligible individuals with SUD and/or MI, and opportunities for systemic change for leaders looking for creative solutions to complicated problems.

In addition, these programs serve the best interest of the community, individual, and taxpayers. Pre-arrest diversion and deflection programs have the added benefits of

  • Breaking the costly cycle of justice system involvement for eligible individuals
  • Increasing cross-sector collaboration to create new pathways to community-based behavioral health services
  • Enhancing relations between community members and law enforcement;
  • Decreasing crime, incarceration, and recidivism rates
  • Lessening the burden on justice systems
  • Improving public health and safety
  • Reducing the burden on individuals who commit non-violent, low-level offenses
  • Ensuring equal access to pre-arrest diversion regardless of race, income, or geography; and
  • Saving taxpayer dollars

For more information on pre-arrest diversion, including case studies of specific pathways, read or download Law Enforcement Pre-Arrest Diversion Resource Guide.[3]

What are the Pathways?[4]
PTACC recognizes that there are multiple models of pre-arrest diversion and refers to these models as “pathways,” because using one or more of them creates pathways to treatment or social services. These pathways are called “Pathways to Community” and are:

Self-Referral: Drug–‐involved individuals are encouraged to initiate the engagement with law enforcement without fear of arrest, and an immediate treatment referral is made.

Active Outreach: Participants are identified by law enforcement, but are engaged primarily by an outreach team, often with a clinician and/or a peer with lived experience, who actively contacts them and motivates them to engage in treatment.

NaloxonePlus: Engagement with treatment occurs following an overdose response and crisis-level treatment is readily available.

Officer Prevention Referral: At point of contact, law enforcement initiates the treatment engagement, but no charges are filed.

Officer Intervention Referral:At point of contact, law enforcement initiates the treatment engagement, and charges are held in abeyance or citations issued.

PTACC endorses all of these pathways and encourages communities to explore the approaches that best meet their needs. PTACC encourages availability of as many pathways as possible to maximize diversion opportunities and connection to treatment, recovery support, and community services.[5]



Relevant Research

SAFE Solutions is an ever-growing platform.  Currently no information is readily available for this section.  SAFE Project is dedicated to providing communities with the most relevant and innovative materials.  We will continue to regularly monitor and make updates accordingly with community input and subject matter expert collaboration.  Please check back soon.

Impactful Federal, State, and Local Policies

The model detection and treatment act was supported by Grant No. G1799ONDCP03A, awarded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The legislation is designed to help state legislatures create programs in their states that allow law enforcement officers to divert some individuals with substance use disorders or mental health conditions away from arrest and prosecution to treatment and other supportive services. The law is intended to help states create collaborative programs between law enforcement, treatment providers, and community organizations that allow these individuals to access treatment and services and avoid justice involvement.

The R Street Report – The R Street Statewide Policies report reviews all fifty states relating to Pre-arrest diversion and crisis response including legal status and legislative actions.   

Available Tools and Resources

Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) [8]

The SIM helps communities identify resources and gaps in services at each intercept and develop local strategic action plans. The SIM mapping process brings together leaders and different agencies and systems to work together to identify strategies to divert people with mental and substance use disorders away from the justice system into treatment.

The SIM includes:
Intercept 0: Community Services
Involves opportunities to divert people into local crisis care services. Resources are available without requiring people in crisis to call 911, but sometimes 911 and law enforcement are the only resources available. Connects people with treatment or services instead of arresting or charging them with a crime.
Intercept 1: Law Enforcement
Involves diversion performed by law enforcement and other emergency service providers who respond to people with mental and substance use disorders. Allows people to be diverted to treatment instead of being arrested or booked into jail.
Intercept 2: Initial Court Hearings/Initial Detention
Involves diversion to community-based treatment by jail clinicians, social workers, or court officials during jail intake, booking, or initial hearing.
Intercept 3: Jails/Courts
Involves diversion to community-based services through jail or court processes and programs after a person has been booked into jail. Includes services that prevent the worsening of a person’s illness during their stay in jail or prison.
Intercept 4: Reentry
Involves supported reentry back into the community after jail or prison to reduce further justice involve of people with mental and substance use disorders. Involves reentry coordinators, peer support staff, or community in-reach to link people with proper mental health and substance use treatment services.
Intercept 5: Community Corrections
Involves community-based criminal justice supervision with added supports for people with mental and substance use disorders to prevent violations or offenses that may result in another jail or prison stay. 

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) – Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a community-based diversion approach with the goals of improving public safety and public order, and reducing unnecessary justice system involvement of people who participate in the program.  The site includes a video, tools and resources. [9]

National Survey: First Responder First Responder Deflection Programs-This survey and report encompass a comprehensive overview of the field and its role in responding to the opioid crisis—as well as how deflection/first responder deflection offers alternatives to law enforcement and first responders in their work.[10]

Promising Practices

The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) helps police departments create non-arrest pathways to substance use disorder treatment and recovery like the ANGEL program in Gloucester, Massachusetts. PAARI works with over 400 police departments in 32 states and helps communities customize their programs to their circumstances. Offered services include technical assistance, policy templates and tools, seed grants, and connections to experts with established programs. 

Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant & Substance Abuse Program (COSSAP)  The Law Enforcement/First Responder Diversion and Referral Mentoring Initiative provides communities interested in starting diversion and/or referral programs the opportunity to learn from established or innovative programs that have shown success in meeting the treatment needs of individuals with a substance use disorder, and in some cases may have experienced an overdose. [12]

SAFE Project Law Enforcement Pre-Arrest Diversion Resource Guide- A resource guide to help law-enforcement agencies create pre-arrest diversion programs for individuals with substance use disorder from the SAFE Project and the Police, Treatment, and Community Collaborative. The guide describes what pre-arrest diversion consists of, defines 2 types of pre-arrest diversion programs, and provides case studies of 5 programs: a self-referral pathway, an active outreach pathway, a naloxone plus pathway, an officer prevention pathway, and an officer intervention pathway. [13]

Arizona Angel Initiative- The Arizona Angel Initiative (AAI) is a community-based, police assisted program. Police departments work in partnership with community-based treatment providers and the Governor's Office of Youth, Faith and Family. This program is modeled after a similar program in Gloucester, Massachusetts.[14]

Ocean County, New Jersey Prosecutor’s Blue Heroin Addiction Recovery and Treatment (HART)- New Jersey's first program allowing substance abusers seek help from authorities without risk of prosecution. [15]

Yellow Line Project- The Yellow Line Project is in Blue Earth County, Minnesota and provides a collaboration between law enforcement, human services and care providers to improve coordination and access to treatment for individuals with substance use or mental health conditions instead of in incarceration.