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A new solution to help address crime in Mississippi

Recent stories of crime in Jackson have dominated local media coverage in Mississippi, sparking conversations about how to address these issues. Diversion programs, a new solution that has been pioneered in other states, could provide an additional tool to combat crime in the Magnolia State.

The term “diversion program” can refer to several different types of programs, but they are all based on “diverting” from the traditional approach of incarceration to an alternative intervention. This could include drug treatment, mental health care, counseling, or other solutions aimed at addressing the root cause of criminal behavior.  With a recidivism rate between 30 %– 50%, prison does a poor job of preventing future criminal behavior. Implemented properly, diversion programs can provide better outcomes.

One example of a successful diversion program is Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD).

Created through a partnership between law enforcement officers and care providers in Washington State, the LEAD model proved successful and has since spread to states around the country. Participants are 58 percent less likely to be re-arrested than those who go through the system as usual.

LEAD is led by law enforcement officers. When an officer encounters an individual for an arrestable offense, the officer can make the decision to divert that person to LEAD, at which point a case manager takes over and works with the individual to resolve their issues. The program is not outcome-based, with each individual receiving a plan based on their needs.

Diversion programs like LEAD have proven successful in some parts of Mississippi, but they are limited and can be expanded to address crime. Diversion programs can decrease criminal activity by addressing underlying issues for its participants and freeing up law enforcement resources to focus on other priorities.

A review of Mississippi’s diversion laws by Grading Justice gives Mississippi a letter grade of D.

The state’s laws could be improved by expanding access to programs and establishing state guidelines for expansion. The options currently in existence are very limited and can only help a small subset of the population. The quality of existing options varies widely, and state guidelines could ensure better outcomes for participants.

By adopting policies to expand access and availability of diversion programs, policymakers can provide law enforcement with an additional tool to fight crime and make Mississippi a better place to live.

Sometimes, the traditional approach is needed. But diversion gives officers another tool in their toolbelt to better perform their job of protecting the community. State policymakers can support them by expanding opportunities for diversion in the state.

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