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SF Diversion Program

San Francisco provides a variety of pretrial diversion programs as alternatives to traditional criminal trial proceedings to justice-involved individuals with complex needs, including those with long criminal histories and those charged with felonies.


Jurisdictions across the country offer programs to divert people out of standard criminal justice processes and into programs designed to address the underlying causes of the criminal activity, such as mental illness or substance use disorders. Approximately 16,000 people were referred to seven diversion programs offered through San Francisco’s Collaborative Courts and Pretrial Diversion between 2008 and 2018.

Research Project

Status: ongoing

CPL examined referral, enrollment, and completion rates for seven diversion programs, studying the demographics of participants as well as their pre-program and post-program interactions with the criminal justice system. The first report in this series, Alternatives to Prosecution: San Francisco’s Collaborative Courts and Pretrial Diversion, does not evaluate causal relationships between referrals to diversion programs and case outcomes or subsequent criminal justice contact. The second report, a working paper: The Impact of Felony Diversion in San Francisco, relies on the random assignment of felony cases to arraignment judges to examine the impacts of a felony diversion referral on case adjudication outcomes and an individual’s subsequent contact with the criminal justice system. Future work will examine the impact of diversion on physical health, behavioral health, and housing outcomes.

Research Team

Professor Steven Raphael (Principal Investigator), Dr. Johanna Lacoe, Elsa Augustine, Alissa Skog


Descriptively, CPL found that approximately one quarter of filed cases were referred to diversion in San Francisco between 2008-2018. Diverted individuals are similar to non-diverted individuals demographically, but tend to have more serious criminal histories, fare better in terms of case outcomes, and have more frequent subsequent criminal justice contact post-diversion. 

An accompanying working paper estimates the impact of felony diversion referrals on case outcomes and subsequent criminal justice contact. Future work will examine the impact of diversion on physical health, behavioral health, and housing outcomes.

Read the report and working paper

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