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. This practice 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 note that deflection and pre-arrest diversion are two sides of the same coin. They are complementary practices of a systems approach at the intersection of first responders, behavioral health service providers, recovery support, and community. The outcomes sought by diverting or deflecting individuals are generally three-fold:

  • Reduce crime by connecting individuals with services that decrease the likelihood of future offenses by providing resources.
  • Assist individuals at their self-identified needs and provide support and opportunities to change the behaviors that brought them to the attention of the justice system.
  • Reduce utilization of limited justice system resources by reducing re-arrest, recidivism and future justice system expenditures.

Key Information

Pre-Arrest Diversion & Deflection Programs

These two types of program are related, but distinct. Deflection is the practice by which law enforcement or other first responders, such as fire and EMS, connect individuals to community-based treatment and/or services when arrest would not have been necessary or permitted. This is done in lieu of inaction when issues of addiction, mental health, and/or other needs 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. This diverts 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), 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.

Pre-arrest diversion programs are designed to reduce the number of persons who are arrested and placed in jail because of a mental health problem, these programs shift responsibility for rehabilitation from the criminal justice system to the mental health system.[1] 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. They allow these individuals to avoid the collateral consequences that result from arrest and contact with the criminal justice system. The movement for early diversion 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 and/or mental illness. 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. It provides appropriate treatment for eligible individuals. It opens up community opportunities for systemic change by leadership looking for creative solutions to complicated problems. [2] Thus, these programs serve the best interest of the individuals involved, the community, and taxpayers. A variety of case studies provide documentation of the following beneficial outcomes of pre-arrest diversion and deflection programs: [3]

  • Break the costly cycle of justice system involvement for eligible individuals.
  • Increase cross-sector collaboration to create new pathways to community-based behavioral health services.
  • Enhance relations between community members and law enforcement.
  • Decrease crime, incarceration, and recidivism rates.
  • Lessen the burden on justice systems.
  • Improve public health and safety.
  • Reduce the burden on individuals who commit non-violent, low-level offenses.
  • Ensure equal access to pre-arrest diversion regardless of race, income, or geography; and
  • Save taxpayer dollars

The Five Pathways to Treatment Model.

In 2014, Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) and Center for Health and Justice (CHJ) developed the first iteration of the Five Pathways to Treatment. This offered different pathways for deflection that first responders could use to move someone from the justice system at the point of contact with law enforcement to community-based treatment. Each pathway has unique characteristics that make it appropriate to address particular problems such as SUD, mental health disorder, homelessness, and other issues. Identifying and naming these pathways created a common language for practitioners to use in the new, emerging field of deflection. For each pathway listed below, the targeted population or circumstance appropriate for the pathway is elaborated. [4] [5]

  • 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. Individuals with SUDs are targeted population.
  • Naloxone Plus: A first responder and program partner (often a clinician or peer with lived experience) conducts outreach specifically to individuals who have experienced an overdose recently to engage them in and provide linkages to treatment. Individuals with opioid use disorder are the targeted population.
  • First-Responder/Officer Prevention: During routine activities such as patrol or response to a service call, a first responder conducts engagement and provides treatment referrals. If a law enforcement officer is the first responder, no charges are filed or arrests made. The targeted population are persons in crisis, or with non-crisis mental health disorders and SUDs, or in situations involving homelessness or sex work.
  • Officer Intervention: (applicable only for law enforcement) During routine activities such as patrol or response to a service call, a law enforcement officer engages an individual and provides treatment referrals or issues noncriminal citations for that individual to report to a program. Charges are held until treatment and/or a social service plan is successfully completed. The targeted population are persons in crisis, or with non-crisis mental health disorders and SUDs, or in situations involving homelessness or sex work.

The Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) [6]

SIM helps communities identify resources and gaps in services at each of six "interception points." The SIM mapping process brings together leaders and different agencies and systems to work together to identify local strategies and action plans to divert people with mental and substance use disorders away from the justice system into treatment. The six SIM intercepts are described below:

  • Community Services. This 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. The emphasis is on connecting people with treatment or services instead of arresting or charging them with a crime.
  • Law Enforcement. At this point diversion performed by law enforcement and other emergency service providers who respond to people with mental and substance use disorders. It allows people to be diverted to treatment instead of being arrested or booked into jail.
  • Initial Court Hearings/Initial Detention. This involves diversion to community-based treatment by jail clinicians, social workers, or court officials during jail intake, booking, or initial hearing.
  • Jails/Courts. This interception involves diversion to community-based services through jail or court processes and programs after a person has been booked into jail. It includes services that prevent the worsening of a person’s illness during their stay in jail or prison.
  • Reentry supports reentry back into the community after jail or prison to reduce further justice involvement of people with mental and substance use disorders. It includes reentry coordinators, peer support staff, or community in-reach to link people with proper mental health and substance use treatment services.
  • Community Corrections. This 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.

Relevant Research

Collaborative Research Report. This survey was performed by the Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, The University of Chicago, and the US Justice Department. It is titled "Report of the National Survey to Assess Law Enforcement-Led Diversion and First Responder Deflection Programs in Response to the Opioid Crisis. It provides 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. [7]

Impactful Federal, State, and Local Policies

  • The R Street Report This policies report reviews all fifty states relating to pre-arrest diversion and crisis response including legal status and legislative actions. [8]
  • The Office of National Drug Control Policy funded a study that provides a model for states to use to generate legislation authorizing diversion. When the template is followed and enacted by a state, it allows 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 to support individuals to access treatment and services and avoid justice involvement. [9]

Available Tools and Resources

The U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) manages the Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant & Substance Abuse Program (COSSAP). Its 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. [10]

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. [11]

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. [12]

The Police Treatment And Community Collaborative (PTACC) is an alliance of practitioners in law enforcement, behavioral health, community, advocacy, research, and public policy. Its 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." [13] PTACC recognizes that there are multiple models of pre-arrest diversion> it has adopted the TASC model, described above, as its "Pathways to Community" because using one or more of them creates pathways to treatment or social services. [14] PTACC endorses each of the five 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: [15] PTACC is organized into eight strategic areas, each having their own working groups and associated websites: [16]

  • Children and Families
  • Community, Diversity, and Equity
  • International Deflection and Diversion
  • Policy and Legislation
  • Public Safety
  • Research
  • Stigma Reduction
  • Treatment, Housing, and Recovery

SAFE Project has published the "Law Enforcement Pre-Arrest Diversion Resource Guide" in collaboration with PTACC. It is designed to help law enforcement agencies create pre-arrest diversion programs for individuals with substance use disorder. The guide describes what pre-arrest diversion consists of, defines 2 types of pre-arrest diversion programs, and provides case studies of PTACC's five pathways -- self-referral, active outreach, a naloxone plus, officer prevention, and officer intervention. [17] The guide can be downloaded. [18] Also, see the SAFE Project wiki titled "“Improve Recovery Support for People in the Criminal Justice System”." [19]

Promising Practices

  • Arizona. The Arizona Angel Initiative 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. [20]
  • Minnesota. The Yellow Line Project in Blue Earth County 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. [21]
  • New Jersey. In Ocean County, the Blue Heroin Addiction Recovery and Treatment (HART) is New Jersey's first program allowing substance users to seek help from authorities without risk of prosecution. [22]


  1. http://www.centerforhealthandjustice.org/chjweb/tertiary_page.aspx?id=73&title=The-Police,-Treatment-and-Community-Collaborative-(PTACC)
  2. https://secureservercdn.net/
  3. https://secureservercdn.net/
  4. https://www.cossapresources.org/Content/Documents/Articles/CHJ-TASC_Nation_Survey_Report.pdf
  5. https://www.cossapresources.org/Content/Documents/Articles/CHJ_Pathways_to_Diversion_Self-Referral.pdf
  6. https://www.samhsa.gov/criminal-juvenile-justice/sim-overview
  7. https://www.cossapresources.org/Content/Documents/Articles/CHJ-TASC_Nation_Survey_Report.pdf
  8. https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Final-187.pdf
  9.  https://www.opioidlibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Model-Deflection-Act-FINAL-7.1.2019.pdf
  10. https://www.cossapresources.org/Learning/PeerToPeer/Diversion
  11. https://paariusa.org/
  12. https://www.leadbureau.org/
  13. https://ptaccollaborative.org/about/
  14. http://www.centerforhealthandjustice.org/chjweb/tertiary_page.aspx?id=73&title=The-Police,-Treatment-and-Community-Collaborative-(PTACC)
  15. https://secureservercdn.net/
  16. https://ptaccollaborative.org/strategy-areas/
  17. https://www.safeproject.us/law-enforcement-pre-arrest-diversion/
  18. https://secureservercdn.net/
  19. https://www.yoursafesolutions.us/wiki/Improve_Recovery_Support_for_People_in_the_Criminal_Justice_System
  20. https://www.opioidlibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/AZ_AngelInitiativeReport_2018.pdf
  21. https://www.yellowlineproject.com/operational-toolkit
  22. https://www.staffordnj.gov/DocumentCenter/View/943/BLUE-HART-program-brochure?bidId=