Play 6: Reduce the involvement of opioid users in the criminal justice system

The value of diverting people from involvement with the criminal justice system has been clear for decades. Central to diversion programs is “the understanding that a criminal conviction – misdemeanor or felony – triggers a cascade of collateral consequences that often severely hamper an individual’s ability to become a productive member of the community,” according to a report by the Center for Health and Justice. Since recidivism is often tied to further substance use, reducing its probability through diversion programs can mitigate substance use disorders.

Finding alternatives to arrest, prosecution and correctional supervision is therefore a reasonable part of any strategy to reduce opioid use. The major intervention points where individuals can be diverted from the criminal justice system are before arrest, before trial and after adjudication. A major focus of diversion programs that has been highly successful across the country is the creation of drug courts, of which there are now over 3,100 nationwide.

Examples: Research into collaboration by police and public health agencies to prevent or reduce opioid use with diversion programs cites numerous examples of successful programs.

Goals and Objectives
The basic goal of this strategy is simply to divert first-time offenders from proceeding through the criminal justice system by engaging them in treatment alternatives that will benefit their long-term control of substance use disorders. Local programs have varying criteria for eligibility, but they generally focus their efforts on non-violent, first-time offenders. It can be difficult to quantify the impact of diversion programs, but indirect measures – for example, the percentage of people remaining in treatment over time and the recidivism rates related to re-arrest for drug-related charges – can be indicators of programmatic success.

Theory of Change
The likelihood of extended opioid use will be reduced by diverting individuals from the criminal justice system. Offenders can be reintegrated into the community and sustain productive lives if they receive treatment rather than being criminally prosecuted and convicted.