SF District Attorney Releases Detailed Diversion Data, Noting Program Benefits

By The Vanguard Staff

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Eleven years of data on criminal cases that have been diverted from the traditional criminal justice process was released Thursday by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office by DA Chesa Boudin.

The data, he said, was collected from the San Francisco Superior Court, the Pretrial Diversion Project, the District Attorney’s Office, as well as other sources and “took many months to compile.”

The data is available on the District Attorney website.

It follows the recent release of the office’s diversion fact sheet.

“We will continue to use data to inform decisions we make and to improve existing systems,” said District Attorney Boudin. “These data collected by our office provide an important tool to help improve our criminal justice system.”

“Diversion,” said the DA, is a “blanket term for a wide range of criminal justice interventions that try to address the root causes of what drives criminal conduct and incentivize treatment and services.”

The DA Office explained, “Diversion programs connect eligible defendants with treatment, employment, targeted programming, and court supervision to address underlying causes of crime and ‘divert’ them from the traditional approach of the legal system.

”In most cases, successful completion of diversion enables defendants to avoid criminal convictions that may make it harder for them to stay on track. A smaller number of diversion programs accept participants post-conviction, and provide treatment and supervision to divert people from incarceration even when they have received a conviction.”

The DA Office noted “For more than 30 years, San Francisco has been at the forefront of criminal justice innovation, investing in efforts to address the underlying causes of criminal conduct through investments like ‘collaborative justice courts’ and other diversion programs that emphasize treatment over incarceration.

In 1995, the San Francisco Superior Court established the City’s first Collaborative Justice court—the San Francisco Adult Drug Court— “as part of a citywide effort to reduce the impact of drug and alcohol use on the criminal justice system. In subsequent years, the City has furthered its investment in treatment and services through the addition of additional collaborative courts,” the prosecutor office added.

“Our office is proud of our work to promote data transparency through launching many data dashboards in the past two years and now, for the first time in office history, presenting these comprehensive data on diversion programs in San Francisco,” said DA Boudin.

The DA Office said, in recent years, the “California State Legislature and Governor’s Office have institutionalized access to diversion through the establishment of several laws that mandate diversion access for the following groups of defendants and/or categories of crime: diversion for veterans (Penal Code §1001.80); diversion for individuals with diagnosed mental health disorders (Penal Code §1001.36); diversion for individuals prosecuted for most misdemeanor offenses (Penal Code §1001.95); and diversion primary caregivers of minor children (Penal Code §1001.83).”

The diversion programs are governed by the court, which decide who is eligible and should be accepted into these programs.

San Francisco isn’t new to such programs, The DA began the city’s first “pre-filing” diversion program in 2012 called “Neighborhood Courts,” which offered people arrested or cited for misdemeanors or lower-level felonies the “opportunity to avoid criminal prosecution altogether through engagement in individualized services overseen by specially trained community members,” explained the DA Office. Other DAs across the state now use these courts.

Boudin’s office notes, that “when someone fails to comply with the terms of the program, and are terminated from diversion, the traditional criminal prosecution resumes.The District Attorney loses no leverage when someone is sent to diversion; it can still prosecute the person if they are unable to complete the diversion program.”

The office adds, “Most people who fail to complete diversion end up with a criminal conviction; those who successfully complete diversion are able to avoid any such conviction.

Research by the California Policy Lab found that even those who do not complete diversion benefit from it; recidivism rates are reduced for those who are referred to diversion, even when they do not complete it.

The DA quotes a California Policy Lab extensive study to evaluate the efficacy of diversion in San Francisco.

The findings, published in Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, “found that defendants in San Francisco who were referred to felony collaborative courts were 20 percent less likely to recidivate after five years than defendants who proceeded through traditional prosecution.

This was regardless of whether they finished the diversion program—the referral alone had a positive impact in preventing future arrests.”
“The data released (Thursday) highlight a number of key findings regarding the use of diversion in San Francisco. In particular, the vast majority of diversion in San Francisco happens after the District Attorney has filed criminal charges.

This shows that most defendants undergoing diversion are not fully diverted out of the criminal process, but rather remain under some form of court supervision to ensure compliance with diversion terms,” said SF DA in a statement.

The office added, “Of the criminal cases filed by the District Attorney’s Office, approximately 18-25 percent are referred to a court-approved diversion program through either the collaborative justice courts or statutory diversion programs…referrals to the pre-filing, DA-led Neighborhood Courts program, took place in less than one percent of felony arrests by police and less than five percent of misdemeanor arrests and citations by police from 2015-2021.

Boudin maintains that “The data…underscore the need for better data on diversion across the City’s various criminal justice, nonprofit, and social service partners. In particular, no data is available on defendant characteristics that may facilitate or impede successful program participation, such as homelessness.”

He added, “The District Attorney’s Office is launching a new case management system in mid-2022 that will help address data challenges by capturing case-level data on diversion program referrals, enrollments, and completions, as well as on participant background and relevant characteristics.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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