A comprehensive overview of where diversion schemes exist, how they work and what we know about their impact

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What is drug diversion

“The Checkpoint Diversion Programme in Durham...seems to me a wholly laudable project.” Kit Malthouse, UK Police Minister, 2019

‘Diversion schemes’ are police-led programmes that divert people caught committing minor offences away from the criminal justice system, to other measures instead. Drug offence diversion schemes usually apply to the possession of illegal drugs for personal use, or sometimes to minor supply or cultivation offences. Police offer to divert people to an assessment, and/or targeted support such as drug education, harm reduction or treatment, as an alternative to arresting, prosecuting or formally cautioning them.

Diversion schemes can be pre-arrest, or post-arrest with prosecution dropped if the person complies with any conditions. Some schemes also provide in-depth support to examine and address the root causes of the person’s drug use and related behaviour. Coerced or otherwise forced treatment is both unethical and less effective, so care needs to be taken to encourage and provide routes into engagement with services, while not alienating people from them by use of threats.

Diversion schemes offer a route to support without unnecessary, and often counterproductive, criminalisation.

Benefits of diversion

Evidence from the UK and globally (see below) shows that drug offence diversion schemes can deliver a wide range of benefits to police forces, individuals and society as a whole

  • Prevent crime by reducing reoffending
  • Reduce costs to police forces
  • Improve the physical and mental health of those diverted
  • Improve the social and employment circumstances of those diverted
  • Potentially reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system
  • Reduce some drug use

Why not arrest and convict people who use drugs?

As numerous bodies nationally and internationally have concluded, criminalising people who use drugs does not significantly reduce use, but does leave people with a criminal record that undermines their life chances, can increase health harms, and creates obstacles to accessing support services. Criminalisation of people who use drugs can also lead to increased reoffending, across a range of offences, not just drug related ones. It also uses large amounts of police, court and prison resources that could be more effectively deployed.

Support for Diversion

A wide range of key stakeholders back diversion. This includes national ones such as the UK Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), and international such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and World Health Organization:

“[P]eople found to be in possession of drugs (any) for personal use... should not be processed through the criminal justice system but instead be diverted into drug education / awareness courses...with concomitant assessment for treatment needs.” ACMD, 2011

More recently support has come from the Government commissioned Lammy Review, the UK Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee, and Health and Social Care Committee and Policing Minister Kit Malthouse, among others.

How does diversion work?

Diversion can occur:

  • Pre-arrest, on the street, with diversion to a pathway leading to a less serious out of court disposal than they would otherwise have received, such as a Community Resolution, or a ‘deferred court summons’ leading to no further action from police if conditions are met

  • Post-arrest, in which individuals who are likely to be convicted in court have a ‘deferred prosecution’ while they are diverted into either a formal out of court disposal or an informal disposal, with conditions, which if met lead to prosecution being dropped, and no record of the offence taking place is recorded

The key outcome is that opportunities to engage with support and services are created, and that there is no declarable criminal record to blight someone’s life-chances. Police forces across the UK have developed different approaches; Transform has more details of these schemes available on request.

Diversion should not be viewed as a ‘soft option’. Meeting the conditions involved is often more onerous than a fine or warning. However, to maximise benefits, it is particularly important to ensure all diversion schemes reduce contact with the criminal justice system to a minimum, especially for young people. Some forces, including Thames Valley Police, are exploring school diversion schemes in which pupils caught with drugs avoid direct police contact, as this can make a child self-identify as a criminal, and lead to stigmatisation by fellow pupils, with long term negative consequences.

There are also a wide range of youth diversion schemes in place. Youth diversion has been mapped and explored by the Centre for Justice Innovation.

What are ‘Out of court disposals (OOCD) and ‘Community resolutions’?

An OOCD is a method of resolving certain kinds of police investigation for offenders of low-level crime and anti-social behaviour without, as the name suggests, going to court. A driving principle for OOCDs is to reduce re-offending. These include community resolutions (a sanction aimed at diverting offenders away from their offending behaviour, and encouraging them to take responsibility for its outcomes), conditional cautions (a police caution which formally records the offender’s behaviour and imposes conditions they must comply with), simple cautions (a caution with no conditions attached), cannabis or Khat warnings, and penalty notices for disorder. NB The UK Home Office is considering reducing the range of OOCDs. Scotland has a different set of OOCDs.

When is ‘Diversion’ not diversion?

In some places, including Scotland, the term ‘diversion’ is also used post-prosecution in court, for example giving a drug testing and treatment order in place of a custodial sentence. However, this is better described as a sentencing reform, rather than Diversion as it is generally understood, and cannot deliver the full benefits of a well designed pre-court diversion scheme, as the criminal record and its attendant burdens remain.

Proper Diversion schemes are always pre-prosecution (so they are not the same as alternatives to custody or other sentences), whether pre or post arrest.

Read our two-sided briefing online: Police Drug Offence Diversion Schemes

Where is diversion happening

Where in the UK are diversion schemes being implemented?

The number of police diversion schemes in England and Wales is growing rapidly. Some are for minor drug possession offences only, while others include minor supply offences.

Diversion schemes run by police forces in England and Wales include Avon & Somerset, Bedfordshire, Cleveland, Devon and Cornwall, Durham, Dyfed-Powys, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Leicestershire, North Wales, Thames Valley, and the West Midlands. The Lord Advocate in Scotland has announced that diversion schemes are being rolled out there. Multiple further schemes are in development, including in Derbyshire and Humberside, with many other forces exploring options.

Rolling diversion out nationally

As Derbyshire PCC Hardyal Dhindsa, the drugs lead for the National Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said:

“Diversion schemes can help reduce harm because you get people into treatment and recovery, as opposed to the criminal justice route … The problem from a police and crime commissioner strategic perspective is that it is ad hoc. In some places it is happening and in others it is not. We need a mechanism by which we understand the good practice and the evidence, and have a framework that enables it to be done consistently right across the country.”

A nationally coordinated approach would reduce ‘postcode lottery’ effects, and encourage maximum take-up of effective diversion for minor drug offences across the UK, even where some flexibility in implementation and programme design is maintained.

An optimized approach is likely to be a nested set of Diversion schemes as part of a wider Out of Court Disposals system, with varying lightness of touch. This would maximise pre-arrest diversion, but include a post-arrest option, tailored to the nature of the offence, and circumstances and needs of the individual. For example, it would be much more efficient and appropriate for a young person caught with a small amount of drugs for the first time to attend a short educational workshop or watch a video, rather than enforcing a 4 month no-reoffending contract, a series of high-resource one-to-one sessions with a specialist navigator, and appointments with drug treatment services.

Diversion Scheme Case studies

  • Durham Constabulary runs an arrest diversion scheme for a number of low level offences including possession of illegal drugs, and possession with intent to supply / supply of controlled drugs where the quantity is minimal and the offending behaviour is driven by their own drug dependency. This scheme is known as ‘Checkpoint’ and involves deferring and ultimately dropping prosecution, if any required assessment and engagement with drug and other support services is completed, along with other measures e.g. a commitment not to reoffend for a given period. (NB Durham also runs a pre-arrest scheme with direct referral to support called Checkpoint 3D)

  • Avon and Somerset (A&S) operate a pre-arrest street diversion programme for people caught in possession of any illegal drug, called the ‘Drug Education Programme’ (DEP). It involves deferring a summons to court, with no further action taken if the person attends a drug education programme akin to a speeding awareness course. The scheme was rolled out force-wide in 2019 following a successful pilot, with over 1000 people per year now being processed in this way. A&S has also started a diversion scheme aimed at young people involved in street drug supply, where there has been intergenerational involvement in the illegal drug trade.

  • Thames Valley Police (TVP) operate a number of pre-arrest street diversion programmes for people caught in possession of any illegal drug. One model has a Community Resolution that does not appear on background checks. This scheme refers people to a voluntary assessment with treatment services which in turn can lead to further referrals to a range of treatment options, one of which is an education course like the DEP, and offers of social, mental health and housing support etc as appropriate. In parallel TVP is rolling out a deferred summons model requiring engagement with an assessment, and a schools diversion scheme. TVP published a detailed description of the pilot and initial outcomes

Benefits of diversion

Preventing crime - Diversion reduces reoffending and crime

  • The Thames Valley Police (TVP) scheme pilot evaluation showed a 70% reoffending rate (all offences) after 12 months for the control group put through the normal criminal justice route, compared with a 0% (zero) reoffending rate for those diverted

  • The Checkpoint pilot phase cohort achieved a lower re-arrest rate (30.4% vs 18.3%) and proven reoffending rate (21.9% vs 14.6%) in comparison to a Durham Out of Court Disposal sample. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary says Checkpoint is ‘an exceptional offender management system”

  • In Bristol Avon and Somerset Police said: ‘Re-offending rates for DEP delegates… also suggest that offending has reduced for those who attended the DEP and the Universal Harm Score for this cohort has seen a step-change reduction.

  • Improvements in police officers’ relationship with people who use drugs in Bristol has also led to better intelligence about activities further up the supply chain.

  • UK evidence replicates that gathered in other countries, over many years. For example, twenty years ago six Australian states and two territories implemented diversion schemes for personal possession of all drugs. The majority who were referred to these Australian diversion programmes did not reoffend post diversion and, for those who had a previous criminal conviction, a majority recorded a fall in offending behaviour after completing the programme.

More broadly, because drug diversion schemes avoid giving people a criminal record that harms life chances, it reduces the risk they will fall into a life of crime.

‘Even for people who receive non-custodial sentences, including formal cautions, gaining or adding to a criminal record can cause serious damage to life chances. They may lose their current job, and face numerous barriers to moving on including access to colleges and universities, training, employment, housing, personal finance and travel.’ Royal Society for Public Health, 2017

Reduce the resource burden on police forces

The Avon and Somerset DEP scheme significantly reduced police time spent on drug offences. The majority of officers reported that a referral to DEP took less than 30 minutes compared to previous disposal methods taking two to four hours. Officers reported that the reduced burden of diverting drug possession offences to the DEP meant that it freed them up to focus on other tasks.

The Thames Valley Police estimate a possession offence takes 12 hours of police time, versus 20 minutes to divert someone. In their pilot scheme evaluation they concluded that there would be 944 hours of officer time saved: ‘Over the period of the pilot, non-cash savings totalled an estimated £6,744. If the results of the scheme are replicated over an entire year it is estimated the non-cash savings will amount to £26,976. Given this pilot took place in one of the smaller [of 12] Local Police Areas (LPA) it is likely that the non-cash savings would be considerable if implemented across the force.’ So forcewide, this suggests savings in excess of £300,000 pa, even without allowing for several of the Thames Valley LPAs being larger than West Berkshire.

‘It’s [drug diversion scheme] really easy and simple to use. So much quicker than what I would have had to do otherwise…. I would have had to send the drugs off for testing, RUI’d him, it would have been on my screen for 8 weeks. This was really easy. I like it.’ Thames Valley Police Officer

Durham’s Checkpoint scheme is estimated to have a potential saving of £160,000 per year for the force. This calculation is based on two factors: 1) the cost of arrest versus diversion to Checkpoint and 2) the cost saved in terms of the reoffending rates. In relation to factor 1) the cost of arresting and prosecuting 1000 people in a year would be £218,576 to the force whereas diversion to Checkpoint for the same number would be £131,577 – a saving of £86,999. For factor 2) the calculation is based on the percentage who reoffend when processed through arrest and prosecution, an estimated £219,000, compared to the reoffending rates associated with Checkpoint, an estimated £146,000 - a saving of £73,000.

The cost savings of diversion have also been noted in Australian studies. A cost-benefit analysis of the diversion programmes in Australia has found that every AU1$ spent on the schemes results in savings of AU$2.98 in relation to police, hospital, prison and probation costs.

Reducing the resource burden on other areas

  • The cost to imprison someone including police, court costs etc is estimated at £65k, then £40,8431 p.a. after that. In 2017, 1,017 people in England and Wales were imprisoned for possession offences alone.

  • The Turning Point diversion scheme (a pilot carried out in the West Midlands - see below) yielded 68% fewer court cases than those cases that were prosecuted in the usual way, with savings of around £1,000 per case, even allowing for the costs of treatment referral etc.

  • In general, treatment for those who need it is very cost effective, particularly compared to CJS interventions. According to PHE, “Drug treatment reflects a return on investment of £4 for every £1 invested, which increases to £21 over 10 years.

Improve the physical and mental health of those diverted

“Criminalising drug users can undermine chances for good health and wellbeing, both in the short and long term.” Royal Society for Public Health

  • All three schemes mentioned above have increased referrals among people who use drugs to treatment and other health services ( as well as other services).

  • Participants in Checkpoint reported significantly improved outcomes in relation to: substance misuse; alcohol misuse; and mental health.

  • Avon and Somerset police have observed similar outcomes to the Checkpoint scheme. The evaluation of the Drug Education Programme highlighted that attendees to the diversion programme have sought additional support for their substance misuse problems, and mental health issues.

  • Australian diversion schemes have also noted positive impacts on individuals’ physical and mental health. There is also evidence that participation in a diversion scheme can impact on a person’s consumption of controlled drugs. For example, Queensland Police found that people described as regular cannabis users and who had been diverted to the programme decreased from 95 per cent to 74 per cent over six months.

  • Evidence from other jurisdictions shows that dealing with drug possession as a non-criminal matter can have positive health outcomes and the World Health Organization has supported this approach after reviewing evidence around HIV prevention.

  • WHO also concluded that criminalisation deters people from seeking help for drug use. According to research by the Royal Society for Public Health, one in five young people would be put off seeking help due to the stigma of having illegal drugs on their record’. Furthermore, only one in 20 felt confident they would receive the help they would need for illegal drug use, without judgement or stigma.

Improve the social and employment circumstances of those diverted

  • Participants in Checkpoint also reported improved outcomes in relation to: accommodation; relationships; and finances.

  • Similarly, research from Australia compared outcomes for individuals who had been criminalised for cannabis possession, to those who had received civil sanctions. Of those criminalised 32% reported a negative impact on employment compared to 2% who were given civil sanctions, for accommodation it was 16% versus 0%.

  • A more recent Australian study found that when a non-criminal response was applied to possession offences participants found ‘fewer barriers in attaining or retaining employment, less conflict with family, partners and friends, and improved perceptions of legitimacy of the police.

Key resources on diversion

Transform's 'Police Drug Offence Diversion Schemes' provides a two-side briefing of what diversion is, who backs it, why it is used and where it is used.

'Responding to drug possession - a new framework', Centre for Justice Innovation (2022)

'Do drug diversion schemes work?' Thames Valley Police Policing Strategy Unit examines the UK's drug policy, and whether drug diversion schemes used by forces including Thames Valley Police are an effective way to tackle drug possession

‘Drug Education Programme Pilot: Evaluation Report’, Luckwell J., Avon and Somerset Constabulary (2017) - available to police on request

Checkpoint: An Innovative Programme to Navigate People Away from the Cycle of Reoffending: Implementation Phase Evaluation’ Kevin Weir, Gillian Routledge, Stephanie Kilili, Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, (2019)

Strengthening Youth Diversion’, Centre for Justice Innovation (2020)

Pre-court diversion for adults: an evidence briefing’, Centre for Justice Innovation (2019)

'A Multisite Evaluation of Prosecutor-Led Pretrial Diversion: Effects on Conviction, Incarceration, and Recidivism', Robert C. Davis, Warren A. Reich, Michael Rempel, Melissa Labriola (2021)

Some of the longest established, and best studied drug diversion schemes are in Australia.

A Summary of Diversion Programmes for Drug and Drug-related Offenders in Australia’, Caitlin Hughes and Alison Ritter, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (2008)

Australian police diversion for cannabis offences: Assessing program outcomes and cost-effectiveness’, National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund Monograph Series No. 66, Shanahan, Marian; Hughes, Caitlin; McSweeney, Tim (2017)

Enhancing the implementation and management of drug diversion strategies in Australian law enforcement agencies: The cases of South Australia Police, Tasmania Police and Victoria Police 2000 – 2005’ Kellow, Aynsley et al, (2008)

Developing a diversion scheme

Questions to ask

What principles should a diversion scheme be based on?

Diversion schemes, and guidance to develop them, should be based on the following principles:

Key to the success of diversion is avoiding harming someone’s life chances with a declarable criminal record that can negatively impact on employment, education, and other opportunities, and increase the risk of reoffending.

Avoid harmful net widening or deepening. There is a risk that with access to a new disposal that is less onerous in terms of time and resources, officers will be tempted to increase use of other enforcement tools, for example stop and search, or otherwise draw more vulnerable people into contact with the criminal justice system, ultimately increasing harmful criminalisation.

Ensure failure to complete the diversion scheme does not lead to escalation in penalties beyond those the person would have otherwise faced

Schemes should allow people to pass through them more than once.

Drug dependency is frequently a relapsing condition - this reality should not be punished. People with drug dependency issues often need more than one opportunity before they can engage successfully with support.

Where people are not dependent on drugs, a criminal record is still a counterproductive way to manage drug use, even when people are found in possession more than once

Ensure an effective evaluation framework, based on agreed key indicators and methodologies, is in place from the outset. This should include an equality impact assessment, to monitor and respond to any racial, social, or geographic disparities in who is (or isn’t) diverted, and conditions placed on participants

Develop schemes in partnership with all the agencies involved, and with meaningful input from people who use drugs, to ensure all participants share the aims of the scheme and a vision of how it should be delivered

Keep eligibility criteria broad to avoid unnecessarily low referral numbers, and to ensure people with and without dependency issues are included

Where possible avoid the impact of formal admissions of guilt on eligibility and participation, especially for people from groups which tend to have less trust in the criminal justice system

Ensure the referral process is quick and simple to encourage practitioners to refer people, and not excessively onerous on participants so they are inclined to refuse to join the scheme

Deliver interventions tailored to needs of the individual, avoiding cookie-cutter responses where possible

Avoid excessive interventions which participants may struggle to complete, and coerced treatment (e.g. under threat of sanction for failure to complete, or maintain abstinence) which is both unethical and less effective

How will the scheme operate?

Any diversion scheme should seek to ensure that people caught for low level drug offences are diverted away from the criminal justice system to an appropriate intervention. For example, police forces could adopt a street warning scheme (like the cannabis warning scheme) or a referral to an education programme similar to a speed awareness course, showing them a cannabis awareness film, or referring them for an assessment by a treatment service.

Ideally, street diversion should be adopted rather than an arrest diversion scheme to reduce formal contact with the criminal justice system, on the basis formal contact can result in a higher incidence of ‘re-contact’ with law enforcement. Street diversion also reduces the burden on police resources.

Some considerations for forces:

Who is the scheme for? While the scheme should be for everyone, it is worth considering how it will work bearing in mind age, gender, ethnicity, social and cultural background, past history of drug use and criminal activity, type of offence

What is the budget available? All existing schemes save money, but some require upfront funding, for example, Checkpoint to employ and train ‘navigators’ for clients, or create an App for referrals, fund assessments

Are Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) or contracts between services needed? For example, between the provider of the scheme people are being diverted to (youth services, health or education providers) and police, so that there is a shared understanding from the outset

How does the diversion program operate in the broader criminal justice, and health and social care systems? And what institutional dynamics may facilitate or impede effective operation?

How should building support/understanding from police who will deliver the scheme be planned and implemented? This is essential as without it schemes can have very low numbers, wavering support, inappropriate or discriminatory referrals.

Some steps that can assist in building support are:

  • Having clear guidelines and MoUs

  • Structured education and training within police about purpose, rationale, and delivery on an ongoing basis e.g. in Australia there is regular training in some police agencies about diversion: “ ‘One-off’ training will be insufficient

  • Structured implementation e.g. pilot plus sequenced roll-out across a force area

  • Providing evidence-base or case examples.

How will you ensure adequate services are in place to manage referrals and inter-agency cooperation?

It is important to have a systems approach to:

  • Preemptively map out expected demands on the system and ensure there are adequate services in place to meet them

  • Ensure that, from the outset, there are shared understandings and expectations for police and other stakeholders of what is success or failure for a person who is diverted looks like, and how to assess processes and outcomes. For example, does a treatment service (if used) need to report non-compliance back to police?

Which offences are covered, and how is diversion determined?

Diversion should apply to all those who are caught in possession of a controlled drug for personal use regardless of offending history. Consideration may be given to incorporating low level supply offences where the offender is involved in social supply or supply to support their own drug dependency, this is the approach that has been adopted in Durham police force.

Some considerations for forces:

Is the scheme just for drug offences (e.g. Bristol DEP), or is it part of a wider diversion scheme e.g. Checkpoint?

Cannabis and/or other drugs? - If the diversion scheme is more onerous than the existing cannabis warning scheme that should be used, with people only diverted if they are caught for a third occasion

Do you include or exclude people with other concurrent offences?

Quantity thresholds - Most diversion schemes differentiate between possession for personal use, and possession with intent to supply. In the UK this is done using existing circumstantial evidence of alleged intent to supply (e.g. large amounts of cash, scales and small drug bags)

Do you include minor supply offences? Durham has expanded its Checkpoint diversion scheme to include people involved in small-time dealing selling to support their own use, on the basis that these people are ”Sad, not bad.” It is also used for people who are sharing amongst peers and not making a profit. It does fall to the investigating officer’s discretion (where category 4 or less) but to help judge eligibility the Sentencing Guidelines are used as an indicator.

Initial action at point of contact/offence

Is the diversion post arrest, or does it avoid arrest altogether? Avoiding arrest is generally preferable as less negative impact on the person concerned, and less police time required.

Confiscation/disposal of drugs - normally standard procedure

Can initial action be done in the field, or does it have to be done at the station?

What is the process for implementing different sanctions/responses?

What is the referral process? For example if the response is to divert people to assessment or treatment, how are the relevant services notified by police rapidly to ensure an appointment is made with minimal delay? e.g. Thames Valley Police use a phone App. One Australian jurisdiction has an online referral system (SupportLink). This was advantageous not just for health reasons, but because police, who were notified when people attended the assessment service, encouraging them to divert more.

What are the different possible actions/sanctions available? What combination is used? And what are the criteria for applying them?

No further action taken after confiscation and informal warning

Community resolutions (no arrest) with Diversion (Thames Valley Police)

Diversion to education course (Bristol involves no arrest). There are various approaches that could be taken in respect of an educational course for example, the provision of this could be online, face to face or telephone (affects costs and outcomes)

Diversion to assessment for treatment (need a discussion around coercion) and/or other service - e.g. housing, healthcare, other council services

Stepped approaches e.g. First offence - no action (or warning). Second offence referral to education programme, and assessment of treatment need

Arrest but deferred or no prosecution with subsequent Diversion - options avoiding arrest are preferable where possible

Fine/other sanction. If using fines – could it be worked off via other means e.g. community service, or can people pay in installments. If not can create problems of net widening, disproportionately impacting young people, those on lower income, unemployed, or homeless

Fine but with penalty waiver if person attends education programme/treatment. Some schemes require attendee to pay for course (e.g. Sussex Druglink course), but this similarly risks inequality of access if poorer people can’t afford to pay

Are there “offences” for non-compliance? If so, what are they? Are they proportionate? The response to non-compliance can be more onerous than for the original offence, so it important to consider this in program design. Will they be actively followed up by police? For example in Australia many jurisdictions say that non-compliance may lead to additional proceedings but this is rarely applied in practice. Under the TVP scheme there is no immediate consequence of failure to engage properly with the scheme, but this will be fed back to police and if caught in possession again, the person may be arrested and not given the diversion option again.

How are actions/sanctions recorded?

How are different actions and sanctions processed, and who by?

While should be no formal criminal record, it is also key to avoid any record of the intervention appearing during external criminal record checks except in exceptional circumstances.

Dealing with repeat offences

Most diversion programs in Australia allow repeat offences - but may differ in requirements and responses for further offences.

  • The Bristol Drug Education Programme only allows one offence to be eligible for diversion.

  • TVP scheme concluded one chance was not adequate as many people with drug problems will require more than one engagement with services to help them, so permit people with previous convictions or can divert an individual in several occasions as long as they are engaging

Dealing with youth

There are particular sensitivities around young people, requiring different stakeholder involvement

Must make decisions around whether to treat under 18s, or other young people (including up to what age someone qualifies as young) differently. For example, the Bristol DEP has a separate course for under 18s

If police already have youth caution or “no action” scheme but introduce a drug diversion scheme should the latter operate instead of or in addition to the youth scheme? If it is in addition then it is important to establish clear guidelines, eligibility criteria and flows so you do not end up with the wrong people receiving drug diversions

Diversion for example to an education course, may be used as an alternative to exclusion when young people are caught with illegal drugs

Key things to avoid

Escalation to criminal charges (e.g. for non-payment of fine, failure in treatment, repeat offences, relapse etc) as this is counterproductive and likely to disproportionately impact most vulnerable

Discriminatory application against minority groups and children/young people, or by geography, socio economic status - so an equality impact assessment should be carried out throughout implementation

Harmful net widening or deepening. There is a risk that with a new ‘tool’ in the toolbox that is less onerous in terms of time and resources officers will be tempted for example to increase stop and search, or otherwise pull people into the net who wouldn’t have been

Inadequate evaluation

Coerced/forced treatment which is both unethical and less effective

Breaches of due process rights

Establishing a system that is more onerous than the status quo for any of the participants, including those who must deliver it.

Monitoring and evaluation framework - Outcomes:

Program penetration, numbers diverted compared to numbers eligible for diversion, by demographic. This is important for assessing if there is discriminatory application, with particular groups being over or under diverted

Cost of diversion versus traditional criminal justice response

Costs or benefits accruing outside (e.g. to treatment groups, health, housing service etc) as well as within the criminal justice system

Rates and patterns of re-offending of people diverted, for those diverted who do not comply and comparable offences not diverted

Client knowledge of alcohol and other drug risks and treatment services pre- and post-diversion

Client quality of life measures pre and post diversion incl. mental health, employment etc

Drug use (in particular, high risk drug use) pre- and post-diversion among treatment completers and non completers, and/or comparable people not diverted

Analysis of net-widening and net-deepening both for numbers stopped and searched, and found in possession, but also for numbers being engaged with services as a result

Qualitative survey of attitudes to police pre and post diversion and any related impacts. For example, Bristol police say that due to better relationship with people who use drugs they are receiving better intelligence about the drugs market

Level of knowledge about drug diversion options amongst key stakeholder groups e.g. people who use drugs, police, treatment providers and lawyers

Level of support for drug diversion amongst key stakeholder groups and the public

Consistency of application e.g. within police force, demographically and geographically


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