BENNINGTON -- The local state's attorney says a study showing low recidivism rates for people who complete the diversion program are not surprising, as the types of people referred to diversion are not likely to reoffend anyway.
The study was released Wednesday by the by Vermont Center for Justice Research and touted by the Vermont Office of the Attorney General, which oversees the program statewide. According to the study, about 5.8 percent of those who complete diversion reoffend during the first year after they complete it. The rate of those who reoffend within five years is 14.3 percent.
Among reoffenders, 90 percent of the crimes committed are misdemeanors, and 40 percent are only convicted of one crime, according to the study.
State's attorneys have the option of sending certain cases to the diversion program, where the offender goes before a diversion board and has a conversation about the offense and is then told to do something that repairs the damage done to the community. If an offender completes the program, records of the offense must be sealed within 30 days of the two-year anniversary of the completion, provided the prosecutor does not object, according to a release from the Office of the Attorney Generals.
"I think it has, in some part, to do with the type of offenses being referred to diversion," said Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage.
Each state's attorney has leeway over what types of cases get diversion. Marthage said for her, she mainly offers diversion to first-time offenders accused of misdemeanor level charges. If a great deal of time has passed since a person's last offense, that can also be worthy of a diversion offer.
"I used to send all first offense marijuana cases to diversion," she said, this being prior to a change in the laws that made possessing less than an ounce a civil offense rather than a criminal one.
Marthage said about 75 percent of the people who go through court are folks who made a mistake and are not likely to come back in the near future. There is, however, a population of people who show up more often and these people tend not to get offered diversion.
The diversion program, to Marthage, is not about sending fewer cases to court. She said she values it because it lets offenders have conversations about their behavior that she and her deputies are not allowed to have. The program explains to them why their actions were harmful and for many is a wake-up call. People before the diversion board can be asked to make amends for what they have done, or, if appropriate, get screened for drug addiction or a mental health issue.
Marthage said she values diversion highly, and has used the program extensively during her time as state's attorney, but said she does not think the program itself leads to the low recidivism rates being reported.
"This study confirms what I and other prosecutors know about the effectiveness of Court Diversion," said Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell in a release. "Most Diversion participants do not re-offend. And the program serves the interests of justice: It holds offenders accountable and meets victims' needs, freeing up the resources of prosecutors and Courts to address more serious crimes."
The study can be found on the Vermont Center for Justice Research's website, www.vcrj.org.
The center was established by an executive order in 1987 to study and collect information on the justice system in Vermont. It is managed by Norwich Studies and Analysis Institute, a non-profit based in Northfield. Members of the research team that worked on the study include Research Associate, Peter Wicklund, and Database Consultant Tim Halvorsen.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.