27 Nov 23

The Benefits of Pretrial Diversion Programs in Federal Cases

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Last Updated on: 15th December 2023, 01:21 pm


The Benefits of Pretrial Diversion Programs in Federal Cases

Pretrial diversion programs provide an alternative to traditional prosecution for some federal defendants. Instead of going through the regular criminal justice process, eligible defendants enter a rehabilitation program. If they successfully complete the program, charges against them may be dropped. Pretrial diversion aims to give worthy candidates a second chance while still holding them accountable.

These programs have many potential benefits. They can save money compared to imprisonment. They may reduce recidivism more effectively than simple punishment. And they can help participants get their lives back on track.

Saving Money

It costs a lot to prosecute someone and then incarcerate them. The average cost to incarcerate a federal prisoner for a year is over $36,000. Pretrial diversion cuts down on these expenses. The programs themselves cost money to run, but far less per participant than imprisonment would.

There are also savings down the line. Participants who get sober, receive an education, and land a job are less likely to reoffend. This means lower costs for future prosecutions and incarceration. It also means they can become tax-paying members of society rather than burdens on the system.

Reducing Recidivism

Recidivism refers to someone relapsing into criminal behavior after already facing consequences. Over 75% of released federal prisoners are rearrested within 8 years. Pretrial diversion aims to lower this rate.

These programs can address underlying issues like addiction and lack of education/skills. This empowers participants to make long-lasting changes. For example, a drug treatment program may better curb addiction than sitting in a cell. An educational program can provide career skills.

Diversion also avoids the disruptive effect of imprisonment. Participants can keep positive elements of their lives like jobs, housing, and family relationships. This stability lowers the temptation to reoffend.

Second Chances

For minor crimes, pretrial diversion acknowledges that good people sometimes make bad choices. It gives worthy candidates an opportunity to avoid having their lives defined by a conviction.

A conviction creates barriers to housing, education, and employment. It also brings social stigma. Diversion avoids saddling contrite defendants with these obstacles for relatively small mistakes.

At the same time, diversion programs have requirements like drug tests, community service, and restitution payments. So participants still face consequences for their actions.

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Eligibility Requirements

Pretrial diversion is intended for those unlikely to reoffend and facing prosecution for low-level crimes. Common requirements include:

  • No history of violence
  • No major drug trafficking charges
  • No sex offenses
  • No crimes with mandatory minimum sentences
  • Taking responsibility
  • Committing to rehabilitation

U.S. Attorneys have discretion over who gets diversion. They tend to offer it to those with minimal criminal histories accused of minor drug or non-violent offenses. These are often first-time offenders unlikely to reoffend.

Program Components

Pretrial diversion programs last around 12-18 months. They aim to rehabilitate participants and confirm commitment to staying clean.

Common requirements include:

  • Drug/alcohol testing and treatment
  • Mental health counseling
  • Educational/vocational training
  • Community service
  • Curfews
  • Court appearances
  • Restitution to victims

For drug offenses, testing confirms abstinence from illegal substances. Counseling addresses underlying issues contributing to criminal choices. Community service and restitution provide accountability. Curfews and court dates maintain supervision.

Educational and job training programs aim to open new opportunities. This facilitates legal methods of earning income rather than criminal activities.


Studies show federal pretrial diversion yields promising results. A review found an impressive 93% completion rate among participants. And data shows lower 3-year recidivism rates for those who complete diversion versus those imprisoned and released.

Of course, diversion works better for some people than others. Factors like the individual participant, offense characteristics, and program quality all impact success. But appropriate candidates often thrive when given a second chance.


Pretrial diversion has drawbacks as well as benefits. Critics argue it:

  • Allows guilty people to avoid proper punishment
  • Overburdens the justice system with supervision obligations
  • Risks diverting resources from prosecuting serious crimes

However, eligibility limitations focus diversion on first-time and low-level offenders. And the cost savings from reduced incarceration are substantial. With appropriate implementation, many feel the benefits outweigh the downsides.

The Bottom Line

Pretrial diversion aims to give minor, non-violent offenders a chance to rehabilitate themselves under supervision. These programs can make society safer by reducing recidivism. They also show mercy to those unlikely to reoffend. And they save taxpayer money by diverting candidates from expensive incarceration.

Diversion provides accountability through requirements like drug testing, counseling, and community service. But it avoids saddling contrite defendants with the stigma of conviction. Overall, federal pretrial diversion helps deserving people get their lives back on track while still making them take responsibility.