Examining Case Dismissal Outcomes in Prosecutor-Led Diversion Programs

AuthorMatthew W. Epperson,Leon Sawh,Sadiq Patel,Carrie Pettus,Annie Grier
Published date01 April 2023
Date01 April 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2023, Vol. 34(3) 236 –260
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034221138738
Examining Case Dismissal
Outcomes in Prosecutor-Led
Diversion Programs
Matthew W. Epperson1, Leon Sawh2,
Sadiq Patel3, Carrie Pettus4,
and Annie Grier4
Prosecutors’ offices are a critical site for criminal legal reform and decarceration
efforts. Prosecutor-led diversion programs (PLDPs) are a prosecutorial innovation that
process cases away from punitive prosecution and, instead, offer various services and
supports. Successfully completing a PLDP results in the dismissal of the charge, which
helps participants to avoid formal entry into the criminal legal system and a range of
collateral consequences. This paper reports findings from over 11,000 participants in
six PLDPs in three Midwestern jurisdictions, and examines race/ethnicity and charge
characteristics associated with successful program completion and case dismissal.
Findings indicate that PLDPs have the capacity to provide alternative processing to
a large volume of defendants with high completion rates, although the likelihood of
racial/ethnic minorities to successfully complete the program is mixed. PLDPs are
discussed as a promising policy and programmatic innovation that can help to move
away from an era of mass incarceration.
prosecutors, diversion, decarceration, prosecutor-led diversion programs
1The University of Chicago, IL, USA
2Abt Associates, Chicago, IL, USA
3Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
4Florida State University, Tallahassee, USA
Corresponding Author:
Matthew W. Epperson, Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, The University of
Chicago, 969 E. 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.
Email: mepperson@uchicago.edu
1138738CJPXXX10.1177/08874034221138738Criminal Justice Policy ReviewEpperson et al.
Epperson et al. 237
The United States incarcerates a greater number and proportion of its population than
any other country in the world (Wagner & Sawyer, 2018). At year-end 2020, over 5.5
million people were supervised by the U.S. adult criminal legal system and of those,
approximately 1.7 million were incarcerated (Kluckow & Zeng, 2022). Previous esti-
mates indicate that people charged with nonviolent offenses make up over 60% of the
prison and jail population, while drug charges account for approximately 25% of all
incarcerated persons (Schmitt et al., 2010). Meanwhile, the system of mass incarcera-
tion costs local, state, and federal governments and the families of incarcerated people
over $180 billion annually (Wagner & Rabuy, 2017).
An overly punitive approach to prosecution is increasingly recognized as a driving
force in mass incarceration. In recent years, the notion of “progressive prosecutors”
has gained traction, in recognition that prosecutors have significant power to repair
much of the damage that has been perpetuated on people involved in the criminal legal
system. At the same time, prosecutors are tasked with responding to a variety of urgent
issues that impact public safety, most notably gun violence and other forms of vio-
lence. However, jurisdictions throughout the country grapple with an overwhelming
number of low-priority or nonviolent misdemeanor and felony cases that overburden
local court systems (Labriola et al., 2018; Rempel et al., 2018). As a result, some pros-
ecutors have embraced a re-envisioning of their role within the criminal legal system
and are rethinking the meaning of a successful prosecutorial outcome.
Coupled with the growing national interest to reduce the overuse of mass incarcera-
tion and also minimize the impact of the collateral consequences associated with a
criminal conviction, a growing number of prosecutors are turning to pretrial diversion
programming to divert select types of cases away from the court system. While the
traditional role of a prosecutor is to prosecute those charged with engaging in criminal-
ized behaviors, some jurisdictions have implemented prosecutor-led diversion pro-
grams (PLDPs) in recent years. PLDPs are defined as a type of front-end diversion
program specially designed to redirect eligible defendants away from traditional court
proceedings and into community-based programming. Upon completion of PLDP
requirements, a defendant’s case is dismissed, thus terminating the criminal legal pro-
cess for that particular case and avoiding future collateral consequences (Orwat et al.,
2019; Rempel et al., 2018). However, little is known about these emerging PLDPs,
especially their potential to substantially and safely reduce the numbers of individuals
cycling through the criminal legal system via jails and prisons.
This study entails an examination of six PLDPs across three large Midwestern U.S.
prosecutors’ offices. The first purpose of the study is to examine the volume, demo-
graphic, and charge characteristics of PLDP participants—in other words, who is gain-
ing access to these programs and what is their programmatic capacity? Next, we
examine the critically important client outcome of case dismissal and assess to what
extent PLDP completion and case dismissal is predicted by participant demographics
and charge characteristics. We discuss the implications of these findings in the context

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