In Texas, 20-30% of criminal offenders released from prison go right back to prison within three years of release. This suggests that, in many cases, traditional prosecution and sentencing is ineffective in preventing future offenses.
Why does this happen?
One of the biggest reasons is that once an individual has spent time in prison, obtaining gainful employment or a college education is much more difficult. In many cases, former offenders may turn back to illegal activities because they find that they are otherwise unable to support themselves.
This can lead to a vicious cycle of repeat offenses, bringing harm to the victims of these crimes, and placing a substantial burden on the criminal justice system. This problem is exacerbated in smaller counties with unfair and punitive policies.
For example, in Johnson County, Texas it is not uncommon for a prosecutor to offer a first-time offender on a misdemeanor or non-violent felony charge an offer that requires them to be convicted and/or jail time. Imagine if this first-time offender is an 18 year old with no prior criminal history that shoplifted. Should they have a permanent theft conviction on their criminal record for the rest of their life? If convicted, this young person has no chance of obtaining meaningful employment which creates an incentive to turn to a life of crime.
In contrast, research has shown that diversion programs, which seek to rehabilitate first-time offenders, benefit just about everyone – offenders, the victims of crime, the community, and the criminal justice system. If you are facing criminal charges, you should absolutely ask your attorney whether diversion may be an option for your case.
Let’s break down the many different ways diversion benefits Texans from all walks of life.
How Diversion Programs Benefit Texas Victims
Diversion programs often require offenders to make some kind of restitution to the victim(s) of their crime. This can help to compensate them for losses resulting from the crime, and it can bring victims closure.
Benefits for victims may include:
- Financial restitution
- A written or in-person apology from the offender
- The opportunity to voice their views of the offense, and learn more about the circumstances of the offense
How Texas Diversion Programs Benefit Offenders
Diversion programs seek to rehabilitate first-time offenders and address any underlying circumstantial, mental, or emotional issues that may have contributed to their criminal activity, or in the case of drug crimes, substance abuse.
Benefits for offenders may include:
- Avoiding a criminal conviction
- Making amends for their offenses in a meaningful way, which may help offenders understand the true impact of their actions
- Mental health screening to address any underlying conditions that may have contributed to the decision to commit the offense
- Substance abuse screening, treatment, and counseling
- Contributing positively to the community through community service
- The ability to expunge their record if they complete the program
How Diversion Programs Benefit Communities in Texas
Diversion programs benefit the community in numerous ways. Benefits for the community may include:
- Allowing volunteers from the community to participate in diversion programs
- Work in the form of mandatory community service hours from offenders
- Diversion programs are highly effective in preventing repeat offenses, decreasing crime rates in the community
- Far more cost-effective than traditional prosecution and sentencing, which decreases the burden on taxpayers
Benefits for the Texas Criminal Justice System
Criminal justice systems nationwide are overburdened with criminal cases, many of which are for non-violent or relatively minor offenses. This means that prosecutors and public defenders are overburdened with unreasonable caseloads, and that the prison system is overcrowded.
Moreover, because recidivism is more likely when offenders are incarcerated, traditional prosecution further contributes to this problem by creating repeat offenders.
Therefore, diversion programs directly benefit the criminal justice system by:
- Decreasing the burden on the overcrowded courts and prison system, both by re-routing offenders entering diversion, and by preventing repeat offenses
- Diverting minor offenses, which allows prosecutors to focus on significant crimes
- Providing a cost-effective alternative to punishment-based sentences, alleviating budget concerns
So, there you have it. With criminal diversion programs, the question isn’t so much “who do they benefit?” but rather, “Who doesn’t benefit?” Or maybe, “Why aren’t we doing more of these?
Great question. With this in mind,
What Help You Can Expect from Tarrant County Diversion Programs
If you are charged with a crime, you probably expect the consequences to include jail, probation, expensive fines, a major disruption to your life, or a combination of all those things.
Here in Tarrant County, though, depending on the crime you have been accused of, you might be eligible to participate in a special diversion program that helps you avoid the typical criminal justice process.
Tarrant County’s diversion programs aim to rehabilitate the offender in order to correct the behavior and attitude that contributed to the original arrest. Upon successful completion of a diversion program, your criminal case can be dismissed, your criminal record can be expunged, and you can go back to living your life.
Let’s look at a few of the diversion programs that are available in our county.
Felony Alcohol Intervention Program (FAIP)
FAIP is for repeat, felony DWI offenders (two or more prior DWI convictions) who have an alcohol abuse problem. The intensively supervised program focuses on alcohol intervention, a specialized treatment plan, holding the individual accountable for their actions, and monitoring the offender’s progress on a weekly basis.
To be eligible for this program, you have to complete an application within 60 days of your case filing, be at least 17, and have no prior 3g convictions or pending cases.
Domestic Violence Diversion Program
The Domestic Violence Diversion Program addresses offenders who have committed part-on-partner domestic violence. To participate in the program, you cannot have any current or prior violations of protective order, stalking activity, open warrants, pending charges, or prior history of diversion. Additionally, you will need to commit to completing the program as well as receiving the consent of the victim in order to participate.
First Offender Drug Program (FODP)
If you are a first-time drug offender who has committed a specific drug crime, including possession of marijuana, controlled substance, or dangerous drug, you might be eligible for the FODP. This program is minimally supervised and gives the offender an opportunity to correct his or her own behavior. You will be required to attend a drug education or life skills class as well as submit to two urinalysis tests per month.
Youthful Offender Diversion Alternative (YODA) Program
The YODA program is for first-time, youthful offenders between the ages of 17 and 25 who are charged with assault against a “non-intimate family member.” A non-intimate family member is defined as a blood relative related by marriage or intimate relationship with another family member. The goal of the YODA program is to give the youthful offenders the opportunity to learn skills and solutions that will “help them move their lives away from future criminality and violence.”
Other Behavioral Intervention With Assault Non-Family (OBI WAN) Program
OBI WAN extends the YODA program to first-time, youthful offenders who are charged with assault against a non-family member. The goals of OBI WAN are similar to YODA and participants must be willing to make changes in their lives, adhere to the programs rules and policies, and attend counseling sessions.
Other diversion programs offered by Tarrant County are:
- Mental Health Diversion Court Program for mentally impaired offenders;
- Veterans Court Diversion Program for Justice Involved Veterans facing prosecution for a criminal case; and the
- Reaching Independence through Self-Empowerment (RISE) Program for women who have histories of prostitution-related offenses.
If you have been charged with a crime and think one of these diversion programs might be for you, reach out to an experienced Ft. Worth criminal defense attorney who will discuss your case and determine the best way to proceed.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.