CONTACT: Rachel Marshall / (415) 416-4468 / Rachel.Marshall@sfgov.org
Director of Communications / Policy Advisor / Assistant District Attorney
SAN FRANCISCO–Today, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced the release of eleven years’ worth of data on criminal cases that have been diverted from the traditional criminal justice process. This data was gathered from the San Francisco Superior Court, the Pretrial Diversion Project, the District Attorney’s Office, as well as other sources and took many months to compile. The release comes as part of District Attorney Boudin’s ongoing commitment to data transparency. It also follows the recent release by the District Attorney’s Office of a diversion fact sheet.
Data on diversion in San Francisco is managed by a range of diversion partners, including the San Francisco Superior Court Collaborative Court Division, the San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project, and the District Attorney’s Office. This data decentralization has made data collection difficult. Despite this, the District Attorney’s Office and other partners have invested in multiple efforts to collect and publish data on diversion, relying on numerous sources to do so.
“Our office is proud of our work to promote data transparency through launching many data dashboards in the past two years and now, for the first time in office history, presenting these comprehensive data on diversion programs in San Francisco,” said District Attorney Boudin. “I want to thank our incredible data team, led by Dr. Mikaela Rabinowitz, for working so diligently to gather and compile diversion data and present it in an accessible way for the public to better see and understand information about diversion programs.”
“Diversion” is a blanket term for a wide range of criminal justice interventions that try to address the root causes of what drives criminal conduct and incentivize treatment and services. Diversion programs connect eligible defendants with treatment, employment, targeted programming, and court supervision to address underlying causes of crime and “divert” them from the traditional approach of the legal system. In most cases, successful completion of diversion enables defendants to avoid criminal convictions that may make it harder for them to stay on track. A smaller number of diversion programs accept participants post-conviction, and provide treatment and supervision to divert people from incarceration even when they have received a conviction.
Diversion Builds on San Francisco’s and California’s Longstanding Commitment to Treatment
For more than 30 years, San Francisco has been at the forefront of criminal justice innovation, investing in efforts to address the underlying causes of criminal conduct through investments like “collaborative justice courts” and other diversion programs that emphasize treatment over incarceration. In 1995, the San Francisco Superior Court established the City’s first Collaborative Justice court—the San Francisco Adult Drug Court— as part of a citywide effort to reduce the impact of drug and alcohol use on the criminal justice system. In subsequent years, the City has furthered its investment in treatment and services through the addition of additional collaborative courts.
In recent years, the California State Legislature and Governor’s Office have institutionalized access to diversion through the establishment of several laws that mandate diversion access for the following groups of defendants and/or categories of crime: diversion for veterans (Penal Code §1001.80); diversion for individuals with diagnosed mental health disorders (Penal Code §1001.36); diversion for individuals prosecuted for most misdemeanor offenses (Penal Code §1001.95); and diversion primary caregivers of minor children (Penal Code §1001.83). Each of these statutory diversion programs is governed by the court, which makes the decision about whether someone is eligible and should be accepted into these programs.
In 2012, the District Attorney’s Office launched the City’s first DA-led “pre-filing” diversion program, Neighborhood Courts, which gives individuals arrested or cited for misdemeanors or lower-level felonies the opportunity to avoid criminal prosecution altogether through engagement in individualized services overseen by specially trained community members acting as “neighborhood adjudicators.” The program has since been replicated in District Attorney’s Offices across the state.
In each of these diversionary programs, when someone fails to comply with the terms of the program, and are terminated from diversion, the traditional criminal prosecution resumes. The District Attorney loses no leverage when someone is sent to diversion; it can still prosecute the person if they are unable to complete the diversion program. Most people who fail to complete diversion end up with a criminal conviction; those who successfully complete diversion are able to avoid any such conviction. Research by the California Policy Lab found that even those who do not complete diversion benefit from it; recidivism rates are reduced for those who are referred to diversion, even when they do not complete it.
Diversion Promotes Public Safety in San Francisco
In 2017, the California Policy Lab began an extensive study to evaluate the efficacy of diversion in San Francisco. Its findings, published in Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, found that defendants in San Francisco who were referred to felony collaborative courts were 20% less likely to recidivate after 5 years than defendants who proceeded through traditional prosecution. This was regardless of whether they finished the diversion program—the referral alone had a positive impact in preventing future arrests.
Diversion Data Analysis & Findings
The data released today highlight a number of key findings regarding the use of diversion in San Francisco. In particular, the vast majority of diversion in San Francisco happens after the District Attorney has filed criminal charges. This shows that most defendants undergoing diversion are not fully diverted out of the criminal process, but rather remain under some form of court supervision to ensure compliance with diversion terms.
Of the criminal cases filed by the District Attorney’s Office, approximately 18-25% are referred to a court-approved diversion program through either the collaborative justice courts or statutory diversion programs. By contrast, referrals to the pre-filing, DA-led Neighborhood Courts program, took place in less than 1% of felony arrests by police and less than 5% of misdemeanor arrests and citations by police from 2015-2021.
The data released today also underscore the need for better data on diversion across the City’s various criminal justice, nonprofit, and social service partners. In particular, no data is available on defendant characteristics that may facilitate or impede successful program participation, such as homelessness. The District Attorney’s Office is launching a new case management system in mid-2022 that will help address data challenges by capturing case-level data on diversion program referrals, enrollments, and completions, as well as on participant background and relevant characteristics.
In addition, as part of the grant-funded Healing Justice Initiative, in late 2021, the District Attorney’s Office sought and received funds to hire a full-time program analyst focused solely on diversion. The first project undertaken with this funding has been an ongoing effort to obtain programmatic data from diversion partners; match those data to SFDA data on arrests, prosecutions, and case resolutions; and provide the District Attorney’s Office and the general public with more information on the diversion of criminal cases in San Francisco.
“We will continue to use data to inform decisions we make and to improve existing systems,” said District Attorney Boudin. “These data collected by our office provide an important tool to help improve our criminal justice system.”
The data is available on the District Attorney website.