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Evidence is mounting that diversion programs appear effective in reducing recidivism rates, substance use, and treatable mental illnesses of dually diagnosed offenders. These strategies are also advantageous in rehabilitation and cost efficiency. There is no single diversion. Programs vary from site to site and the extent to which individual programs are fully implemented is not well documented. On the other hand, the extent to which diversion methods deliver services to mentally unstable substance abusers than to comparable individuals not participating in the program has been studied. This paper presents an exploratory analysis of the advantages that diversion programs have toward dually diagnosed individuals who participate in them opposed to dually diagnosed individuals who are sentenced to jail time without treatment.
Since Regan's declaration on "the war on drugs", society's generalized viewpoint in dealing with drug-involved offenders has been extremely punitive, to say the least. Mandatory sentencing for drug offenses no longer allows judges to use their discretion in sending offenders to treatment rather than jail. It is estimated that every year, at least 560,000 offenders enter correctional facilities each year with a combination of substance abuse and mental illness of symptoms that range from major depression, mania, to psychotic disorders. This condition is known as dual diagnosis.
For seventy percent of jail and prison population being dually diagnosed, it is astounding that very few representatives of the criminal justice system understand that sending individuals who misuse drugs and alcohol directly to jail does not eliminate their problems of substance abuse and mental disorders. In fact, The Bureau of Justice completed a study of recidivism rates among dually diagnosed offenders. The results show that 67 percent of those individuals are rearrested within a year after they are released from their jail term (Benda, Toombs, & Whiteside, 2004). Sentencing these people to jail can be compared to bandaging a wound instead of treating the infection. The advantages of jail and prison diversion programs for individuals who commit crimes are ever increasing. Using this approach will provide alternatives to arresting and sentencing processes thus proving to be a more cost effective option to the criminal justice system. Other advantages, among others, include enhancing productivity among offenders within the community, and reduce recidivism rate.
There is a growing need for a comprehensive substance abuse and mental health treatment approach. Such a program should be targeted toward this inmate population. A successful diversion approach would integrate substance abuse and mental health treatments along with social, behavioral, and vocational training. According to Glassmire, Clevenger & Welch (2007), because of the "high co morbidity rates between substance abuse and psychiatric disorders; substance abuse counseling has been demonstrated to be an important and effective intervention for this population". Therefore more resources should be expended toward creating these effective interventions for mental illness and substance abuse.
Diversion programs provide an alternative to arrest, prosecution, or conviction (Cowell, Broner, & Dupont, 2004). This, in the long run, saves the not only the government at state and federal levels, but also the taxpayers by avoiding court costs; therefore, proving to be noticeably cost efficient. The current method of retention for offenders with co-occurring diseases has failed the justice system as well as those who invest in it. With trillions of dollars invested in the "war on drugs" one would suspect that only the best diversion methods would be afforded.
Diverting offenders to substance abuse and mental health treatment may appear to be costly at first due to obtaining reputable and certified clinicians, consultants, and staff who specialize in such services; nevertheless, research shows that it is more cost efficient than running correctional facility operations. California, for example, has a problem with overcrowding of the jail and prison systems. As a result, they need to build more institutions to accommodate the overflow of more than 200,000 inmates. As of late, however, California can no longer afford to build additional housing facilities for offenders due to their budget crisis. The cost analysis of California's correction system is that it takes over $11.4 million per day to operate(Prendergast and Wexler, 2004). Perhaps, a significant factor related to California's overcrowding dilemma could be attributed to the misplacement of mentally ill substance abusers who commit no violent offenses. Considering that federal courts are demanding California to reduce its inmate population, it would only be reasonable for the Department of Corrections to thoroughly evaluate its inmates to determine if they would fare better in a diversion program.
Studies suggest that diversion programs can result in positive outcomes for individuals, systems, and communities in that the recidivism rate, that is, the return to crime rate, is reduced and provides practical services to help with reentry into the community. For example, a recent evaluation of the success of diversion programs published in 2007 found that graduates of diversion programs are less likely to be rearrested than a comparison group of those who do not graduate from the program (Heubner & Cobbina, 2007).
Effective diversion strategies also provide an opportunity for self-development through initiatives such as vocational, behavioral, and social trainings that encourage offenders' abilities to function productively and independently within the community. Through these trainings, these individuals are given the necessary tools that will enable them to seek out, obtain, and maintain a stable source of income to sustain a safe environment for living. As a result of this sense of empowerment, the need for alcohol and drug use is weakened because the individuals are now productive citizens amongst their community members.
The aforementioned studies are supportive of one of the goals of the correctional system. Rehabilitation is a "programmed effort to alter the attitudes and behaviors of inmates and improve their likelihood of becoming law- abiding citizens" (Seiter, 2008 p32). It is evident that the justice system has shifted its focus from rehabilitation to punishment in that individuals who, while under the influence and mentally incapacitated, commit crimes, are sentenced to jail without given the opportunity to seek rehabilitative help that is needed. As such, legislature should seek resources to elaborate on the many advantages that diversion programs have to offer to offenders who are dually diagnosed.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, one of the advantages of diversion programs is the reduction of offenders' recidivism rate. For example, in Thompson et. al evaluation of California's Board of Corrections' diversion program known as the Mentally Ill Offender Crime Reduction Grant (MIOCRG) program, one of their studies found that those who participated "were booked less often, convicted less often, and convicted of less serious offensesâ€¦fewer participants served time in jail, and when they did serve time, they were in jail for fewer days than those who were not in an diversion program" (2003, p 49). Correspondingly, there are other studies that support the very idea that the more tailored the program is in meeting the needs to these individuals, the better success there is in lowering recidivism among them. For example, a research study conducted by psychologist Steven Martin highlighted the effectiveness of treating dually diagnosed individuals. His study found that "after one year, a significantly higher percentage of inmates who had participated in any aspect of the program were drug free and arrest free than those assigned to the usual jail sentence for drug offenses" (Martin et.al, 2008 p311-12).
To conclude, dually diagnosed offenders are better off completing diversion programs, as opposed to being sentenced directly to jail. Results from the studies examined should encourage criminal justice administrators to lend, not restrict, resources to establish more diversion programs, or streamline current programs, as auxiliary means of rehabilitation.
Further research should be continued to determine if diversion programs are more cost effective than pretrial, trial, and post trial processes. Resources for these rehabilitative services are being reduced, if not, eliminated at the moment when they may be most needed. Diversion programs are also not being utilized to their fullest potentials. This is evident in the recidivism rate of offenders who are struggling with substance abuse and some form of mental illness. With the growth in society's industriousness, it is time for the "nothing works" mentality of Martinson shift toward rehabilitation. The criminal justice system and the community hold unrealistic expectations toward recidivism among the individuals. It is the common idea that placing these persons in jail, without treating their problem, should be enough. The needs of these individuals are multi-faceted, so the needs of diversion treatment should be also.