As governments have grappled with ways to reduce incarceration and provide better outcomes for justice-involved people, diversion programs have emerged as a valuable tool. Diversion is premised on the idea that many people who end up in prison for issues related to poverty and addiction could have avoided this outcome with targeted interventions. Diversion provides these interventions by providing resources to meet an individual’s needs. In some cases, this might be drug treatment, in other cases it might be help writing a resume to get a job. Diversion can take place before arrest, by empowering law enforcement officers to connect people who might otherwise be arrested with a case manager who can help them get back on track. Post-arrest diversion programs can provide similar services, albeit later in the legal process. Well-constructed diversion programs intervene as quickly as possible and provide evidence-based interventions to create better outcomes for individuals and taxpayers. States can support these programs by creating diversion programs directly, encouraging their creation at the local level, enabling private partners to operate diversion programs, and ensuring that they are available to as many people as possible.
Are pre-arrest diversion programs widely available in the state?
Are post-arrest diversion programs widely available in the state?
Are programs equally accessible by all justice-involved people, including funding for indigent people?
Do available diversion programs provide evidence-based, non-carcereal interventions that are needs-based and can be completed within a reasonable time frame?
Mississippi’s state law establishes post-arrest, pretrial diversion programs that are operated by District Attorneys around the state, with the consent of a circuit judge in the district.
While these can provide better outcomes for individuals who are eligible to participate, the state sets no standards for the type of interventions that are provided, and no standards for access by people who cannot afford participation fees. State law is silent on pre-arrest diversion programs, but there are examples of public-private partnerships in the state. Mississippi could improve its diversion services by establishing more pre-arrest diversion programs and establishing evidence-based standards for post-arrest diversions, as well as ensuring that the programs are accessible to all justice-involved people.
Pre-Arrest Diversion Availability
State law does not establish pre-arrest diversion programs but the law is permissive for the creation of local programs. There are several private programs currently in operation.
Post-arrest diversion programs are established in state law and operated by district attorneys throughout the state.
State law bars individuals charged with violent offenses from participating in diversion programs, as well as those charged with possession of more than 1 kilogram of marijuana, and those charged with sale or distribution of a controlled substance (except for small amounts of marijuana). District attorneys decide how to set fees for participation in the program, and can provide access at no charge to indigent people, at their discretion. Policies vary between districts, with the ability to pay being the sole additional qualifying factor for participation in some programs. This lack of statewide standards denies access to some individuals who cannot afford to participate in diversion.
District attorneys have latitude to operate diversion programs, with the consent of a circuit judge in their district. The lack of state standards results in programs of varying quality throughout the state. While most programs are relatively short in duration, few appear to offer any evidence-based interventions.
12. Miss. Code Ann. § 99-15-105
13. Miss. Code Ann. § 99-15-107
14. Miss. Code Ann. § 99-15-105