Expand Pre-Arrest Diversion and Deflection Programs

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Diversion and deflection programs seek to re-direct, or channel people away from justice systems. The concept of diversion 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. These diversion and deflection programs include:

Pre-Arrest Deflection

Intervention Based Pre-Arrest Deflection: An individual with an unmet behavioral health need is identified by law enforcement as committing an arrestable or citable offense. Instead of formal arrest/citation and processing, the individual is transported to treatment for clinical assessment. If the individual refuses treatment, then the officer makes the arrest or citation and regular justice system processing occurs.

Prevention Based Pre-Arrest Deflection – An individual with an unmet behavioral health need, whose behavior puts them at risk for justice system involvement, is identified by or self identifies to law enforcement and a direct handoff to treatment or clinical assessment is provided.


Deferred-Prosecution – Defendants in a deferred prosecution agreement are required to participate in treatment/programming but are not required to plead guilty to the charges against them. If they successfully complete the treatment/programming, the prosecutor will drop the case against them. Failure to complete the program, however, results in prosecution.

Deferred-Sentencing – Defendants in a deferred sentencing agreement are required to both participate in treatment/programming and must plead guilty to their charges. Sentencing for that individual is deferred or suspended while they participate in treatment. Successful participation results in a waived sentence or expungement of the offense, unsuccessful participation will result in sentencing on the guilty plea.

The outcomes sought by diverting or deflecting individuals are generally three-fold:

1) reduce crime by connecting individuals with services that decrease the likelihood of future offenses by providing resources.

2) provide individuals with an opportunity (with assistance) to change the behaviors that brought them to the attention of the justice system.

3) assist by meeting Individuals at their needs and reduce utilization of limited justice system resources by reducing re-arrest, recidivism and future justice system expenditures.

Key Information 

Pre-Arrest Diversion

Police Treatment And Community Collaborative

The Police, Treatment, and Community Collaborative (PTACC) is an alliance of practitioners in law enforcement, behavioral health, community, advocacy, research, and public policy, whose 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 pre-arrest diversion and deflection field.

PTACC is organized in six strategic areas, but more are planned (e.g., Special Populations, Families and Children). Working within each strategic area are “workgroups,” or teams of practitioners who create resources, guides, webinars, and other deliverables to be used to guide the practice of early diversion programs. The existing areas are:

  1. Leadership
  2. Treatment, Housing, and Recovery
  3. Public Safety
  4. Community, Diversion, and Equity
  5. Research
  6. Policy and Legislation
  7. Special Populations

Pre-Arrest Diversion

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, and allow these individuals to avoid the collateral consequences that result from arrest and contact with the criminal justice system. This movement 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 (SUD) and/or mental illness (MI). 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, appropriate treatment for eligible individuals with SUD and/or MI, and opportunities for systemic change for leaders looking for creative solutions to complicated problems.

In addition, these programs serve the best interest of the community, individual, and taxpayers. Pre-arrest diversion and deflection programs have the added benefits of:

  • Breaking the costly cycle of justice system involvement for eligible individuals;
  • Increasing cross-sector collaboration to create new pathways to community-based behavioral health services;
  • Enhancing relations between community members and law enforcement;
  • Decreasing crime, incarceration, and recidivism rates;
  • Lessening the burden on justice systems;
  • Improving public health and safety;
  • Reducing the burden on individuals who commit non-violent, low-level offenses;
  • Ensuring equal access to pre-arrest diversion regardless of race, income, or geography; and
  • Saving taxpayer dollars

For more information on pre-arrest diversion, including case studies of specific pathways, read or downloadLaw Enforcement Pre-Arrest Diversion Resource Guide.



What are the Pathways?
PTACC recognizes that there are multiple models of pre-arrest diversion and refers to these models as “pathways,” because using one or more of them creates pathways to treatment or social services. These pathways are called “Pathways to Community” and are:

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.

NaloxonePlus: Engagement with treatment occurs following an overdose response and crisis-level treatment is readily available.

Officer Prevention Referral:At point of contact, law enforcement initiates the treatment engagement, but no charges are filed.

Officer Intervention Referral:At point of contact, law enforcement initiates the treatment engagement, and charges are held in abeyance or citations issued.

PTACC endorses all of these 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.

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