- Describe and compare the following, providing one (1) example of each: Diversion (four forms), deferred prosecution, and deferred sentencing. (this question was answered)
- Provide your opinion of each alternative, including one (1) concern that each alternative raises.
The question is unclear with respect to the student's expectations, as part 1 specifies in parentheses that it has been answered. What follows, therefore, will reflect a broader approach to the question in the hopes that it helps the student complete his or her assigned task.
Diversions within the context of criminal justice refers to the use of alternative means of penalizing offenders rather than subjecting themselves, overburdened judicial systems, and taxpayers to the costly intricacies of the criminal justice system. As it costs over $28,000 to incarcerate each prisoner, and the expenses associated with prosecuting the defendant can cost thousands of dollars more, and because the American penal system can be an incubator of violent criminals once they are released back into the population, and because prisons are overcrowded, including with convicted inmates whose crimes or criminal records may not warrant incarceration, social scientists and criminal justice analysts have sought less expensive and more socially appropriate means of handling some offenders, including first-time nonviolent offenders and juveniles. The result is the practice of deferring prosecution for a specific crime under the condition that the offender complete some specified task, such as completing an education, remaining drug- or alcohol-free in the case of substance abuse-related crimes (e.g., driving under the influence with no vehicular accident involved), or some other specified task intended to minimize the prospects of recidivism on the part of the offender. Similarly, deferred sentencing is used as a form of probation, wherein the convicted offender is offered the choice of meeting certain requirements like drug counseling and community service with the certainty of imprisonment should those assignments not be met.
Diversion is an inherently meritorious option available to the criminal justice system. Prison overcrowding is a serious problem, and too often individuals are imprisoned under conditions that exceed the gravity of the crime. Nonviolent criminals subjected to the indignities of prison may very well emerge from confinement more violent than when they went in. Prison is the ultimate "Darwinian" environment, and the measures to which individuals must go to retain a measure of human "dignity" relative to the prison's general population are not conducive to eventual reassimilation into society. If first-time offenders can be adequately punished or controlled under the terms of a deferred prosecution or sentence, then the public interest is better served than incurring the financial costs associated with confinement at the public expense.
A potential down-side to diversions, of course, is the possibility of the criminal or offender offending again, possibly at the expense of an innocent citizen's physical and/or mental well-being. As with the uncertainty surrounding the decision to allow certain individuals to be free on probation or to be paroled from prison, there is no guarantee that the individual in question will not commit another, possibly worse crime.
Another potential down-side to diversions is the victim's perceived inability to attain "justice" defined as the punishment of the offender. Diversions may be met by victims of crime as a miscarriage of justice, as the individuals who victimized them will not have been prosecuted or sentenced to imprisonment. The ability of the criminal justice system to meet the public's demand for justice is a sine qua non of the government's agreement with the public it serves to protect it. That is not necessarily a concern with first-time offenders whose crimes involved no victimization (direct) of another individual, but allowing someone guilty of drunk-driving to go free, knowing that he or she is an alcoholic, carries with it considerable risk, as recidivism among substance-abusers is high, and the next offense may very well result in the death or dismemberment of an innocent member of the public.