Matthew Standsberry of the American Legislative Exchange Council wrote about pre-arrest diversion programs in Fulton County, Ga., in a February 3, 2017, article on ALEC’s website. The article is reprinted below; access it at ALEC at www.alec.org/article/georgia-examines-a-pre-arrest-diversion-program/.
By Matthew Standsberry
Politicians and citizens from both sides of the aisle have been pushing for criminal justice reform for years. In 2008, a study was released by the Pew Center on the States which identified that more than 2.3 million adults are currently incarcerated in the U.S. in some capacity — amounting to nearly 1 in 100 adults in the United States. In Georgia, this problem is even more severe as one in 13 adults are under some form of correctional supervision.
One way Georgia is seeking to reduce its incarceration rates is through a pre-arrest diversion program. Fulton County, which includes part of the city of Atlanta, is working on implementing a new program called the Pre-Arrest Diversion (PAD) program which would prevent offenders who commit certain crimes from entering the criminal justice system. In December of 2015, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners adopted Resolution item # 15-1197 to authorize and create a design team for PAD. This program has received a lot of support in the early stages and is set to take effect this summer. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Constance Russell stated, “PAD is a common sense program that will help get people out of the criminal justice system and into social programs where they can receive the help they need.” This program would only apply to certain crimes, such as possessing small amounts of marijuana (under one ounce). The idea behind this method is to keep non-violent offenders out of jail and prisons for minor violations.
In fact, PAD would prevent offenders from ever being placed in handcuffs or being processed into the system. These violations, which previously appeared on criminal records, will no longer have the same long term effects that often inhibit future employment. This would mean that an officer would have the discretion at the time of the incident to temporarily stop the offender and inform them they have probable cause for an arrest, but offer the PAD program as an alternative.
The main goals of programs similar to Fulton County’s PAD are to prevent involvement in the criminal justice system (avoid an arrest record), promote public safety & health and reduce prison populations and expenses. This would be the result of reducing the number of people unnecessarily entering and repeating the criminal justice system (including the jails) for behaviors related to drug use, mental health and extreme poverty. In Georgia’s annual State of the State address, Governor Nathan Deal announced improvements to the criminal justice system and law enforcement structure, which included programs already underway like PAD.
The ALEC model policy Pre-Arrest Diversion gives local communities and states the chance to adopt and implement a pre-arrest diversion program. The ALEC model provides that offenses such as disorderly conduct, petty theft, minors in possession of alcohol, providing alcohol to minors and even trespassing are eligible for pre-arrest diversion.
The Foundation’s Criminal Justice Initiative pushed the problems to the forefront, proposed practical solutions, brought in leaders from other states to share examples, and created this nonpartisan opportunity. (At the signing of the 2012 Criminal Justice Reform bill.)