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Many criminal justice systems around the world have instituted diversion programs as an option for individuals who have been charged with a crime. The scope of the program and eligibility criteria for specific programs will vary by jurisdiction; however, the basic concept remains the same. A diversion program is intended to give a first-time offender charged with a non-violent criminal offense the opportunity to complete a period of counseling, rehabilitation, or education, after which the original criminal charges will be dismissed.
Requirements for completion of a diversion program may be tailored to the crime committed by the defendant. For instance, if the defendant was charged with possession of marijuana, then the program may include drug education classes as well as regular examinations for the presence of drugs in the participant's system. A program for individuals charged with prostitution may include life skills as well as testing and education for sexually-transmitted diseases.
The length of the program may vary from a few months to a year or more. Participants must usually pay a fee for participation in the program. Additionally, successful completion of a diversion program is generally contingent upon the participant not being charged with another criminal offense during the time she is in the program.
The charges pending against the defendant will generally determine whether or not a diversion program is available as an option. Charges such as possession of marijuana, shoplifting, tendering a bad check, and prostitution are common crimes for which a diversion program may be offered. In most cases, only misdemeanor charges qualify for a diversion program; however, some jurisdictions do allow lower level felony charges as well.
Most diversion programs require the defendants to meet strict screening criteria before acceptance. Factors which may influence eligibility include the defendant's past criminal history, the defendant's age, and the specific facts and circumstances surrounding the offense. An eligible participant must indicate her desire to participate in a diversion program early on in the court proceedings in order to ensure time for screening and ultimately acceptance into the program.
The benefit to the defendant upon successful completion is that the original charges will be dismissed by the court. A criminal record of any type can seriously affect a person's ability to rent an apartment, gain employment, obtain a professional license, and even enter the military. As such, the option to complete a program that will result in dismissal of the original charges should be taken seriously be anyone offered the opportunity.