By SAO Dash · August 30, 2022
The Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office provides a Felony Alternative Prosecution Program (APP) to divert some defendants from the traditional course of prosecution if they accept responsibility and agree to improve themselves. Using alternatives to incarceration is a rehabilitation strategy for the long-term reduction of crime. Between 2014 and 2021, 93% of participants have successfully completed the program.
As with many other aspects of the criminal justice system, the data shows that the State’s Attorney’s Felony Alternative Prosecution Program has disproportionately catered to White defendants in the past, even though White people represent a minority of those arrested in Lake County.
A new data-driven administration took over the State’s Attorney’s Office in December 2020 with many goals including increasing the access and diversity of the alternative prosecution program. With the addition of new staff and increased outreach to defense attorneys and public defenders, data from this reinvigorated program shows a new trend for participants in 2021-2022.
From January 2021 through May 2022, 61% of the new participants in Felony APP where Non-White while 39% were White. Additionally, 2022 is on pace to have the most (new) participants in any year since the program’s inception.
Recent studies in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois show that diversion programs dramatically decrease crime in the long run.
In Texas, research from 2020 found that defendants without a prior felony conviction who participated in the diversion program experienced an immediate and dramatic reduction in subsequent offending. The total number of future convictions fell by 75% over a 10-year follow-up period, compared to similarly situated defendants who did not receive diversion. The diversion participants also were employed at a 50% higher rate than the other group.
A 2022 study released by the University of Pennsylvania demonstrated that individuals who avoided misdemeanor sentences on their records for non-violent offenses had a 35% lower rate of recidivism than those who did not receive diversion. The UPenn study also found that there were dramatic savings on incarceration costs.
Finally, closer to home, Kane County, IL has employed a diversion program for domestic violence cases since 2010. Kane County saw a 25% decrease in intimate-partner violence between 2013 and 2019, while Lake County saw a 3% increase.
The studies show that diversion programs must be deployed carefully and intelligently. To that end, the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office now has several attorneys formally reviewing felony diversion matters, which is a dramatic increase from the past.