Project Spotlight: Making Early Diversion Work
The project: An evaluation of Peterborough Police Service’s pre-charge diversion program, which allows police officers to divert individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues away from the criminal justice system and towards relevant services, thereby reducing their rates of criminalization and incarceration. In Peterborough, there was a perception that the pre-charge diversion program was underused, and this project sought to identify how it could become more viable.
Research questions: What are the essential elements of a successful pre-charge diversion program? How can we increase the use of Peterborough’s pre-charge diversion program?
Methods: Trent and Scott did a literature review to identify best practices for pre-charge diversion programs. Then, they conducted interviews with key informants on how Peterborough’s program could be improved. Lastly, they performed a comparative case study, examining the differences between Peterborough’s and Durham’s pre-charge diversion programs.
Findings: The research revealed a need to improve collaboration and communication between agencies involved with the pre-charge diversion program in Peterborough. It also identified some of the reasons officers have been hesitant to use the program, including perceptions of unaccountability and a lack of awareness about how the system works.
Informants also said the program wasn’t agile enough to respond to the crisis-nature of many incidents involving mental health or substance abuse. The research recommended increasing the resources of mental health workers so officers would have more support in responding to these incidents.
Impacts: Trent and Scott, as well as the host organizations, hope that in the long-term this research will lead to a greater range of options for front line officers responding to individuals with mental health and addictions issues, as well as increased collaboration between the agencies involved.
A representative from Peterborough Police Services said the results of this project were beyond anything his department could have achieved on its own, and Trent said that his experiences with the Trent Community Research Centre have been the most enriching ones of his undergraduate career. “These experiences have changed me as a student, as a person, and as a professional,” he said.