Diversion is any situation where criminal behavior is treated without relying on the results of a trial for sentencing. 

There are many different programs involved in diversion. These programs vary depending on the geographic region. Each courthouse will have information about the diversion programs offered at that location. In addition to the resources available at the courthouse, there may be community-based programs that apply to your area. 

Diversion is a way to deal with relatively minor charges. Simple assault is considered more suitable than assault with a weapon. Minor drug charges and property crimes can also be treated with diversion. 

Prosecutors have the discretion to screen cases for diversion. Even if the case is not initially considered for the diversion it is still possible to have the prosecutor offer this later in the proceedings.   

Diversion is more likely to be offered when the accused has no previous record. If there is a previous record, but the charges are fairly minor and do not involve serious violence, then diversion may still be offered. If you need more information about diversion you should ask a Criminal Defence lawyer about diversion possibilities.

Diversion is important because it recognizes that most people charged with a crime have better chances of changing their patterns of behavior if they are given better tools and resources. This approach to justice is less punitive and more rehabilitative. It focuses on creating better integration between those who are accused of crimes, and society in general.

Diversion works with community-based programs to create and promote healthier community relationships. By integrating members of society into productive roles diversion provides many benefits. Offenders are able to make contributions that add value to the community by providing community services.  

Diversion is also able to target behavior and engage offenders in programs that address the specific issues related to the offence. In contrast, trial sentencing is generally a more punitive approach, and the costs of implementing court sentences are relatively high compared to the costs of diversion programs. 

Furthermore, diversion programs have greater potential for restorative justice. This is where survivors of crimes are restored as fully as possible. In one example a young person charged with arson spent his summer rebuilding a house. This had a positive impact on the person who was the most seriously affected by the fire.   

There is a growing body of research that recognizes the ages from 16-24 as a unique stage of social development. Youth in this age range are more likely to engage in criminal behavior, and encounter the law for the first time. How their case is handled will have a lasting impact on that person, and the rest of the community. In 2017 the U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, funded a 3-year technical assistance initiative called the Young Adult Diversion Project.

This project shows how valuable it is to have these sentencing initiatives available to young adults, who are no longer considered minors according to the legislation. Although it is possible to charge these people as adults, using diversion results in more positive outcomes for both the offenders and the rest of the community.

The lasting effects of a criminal record can negatively impact a person’s ability to find employment. This can easily trigger a poverty cycle where the person engages in criminal behavior for a number of reasons. When the criminal behavior is targeted early on, and the offenders are given the tools needed to restore the community then the offenders learn valuable lessons and life skills that stay with them for the rest of their lives. 

The people laying the charges also have an opportunity to recover some of what was lost and be restored in the process. Many times survivors of crimes gain no benefit from the accused’s involvement in the criminal justice system and implementing the sentences can be incredibly costly. Diversion is a valuable alternative to criminal sentencing and if you have been charged with a crime you need to discuss this option with a criminal lawyer. Diversion is not always possible, but it is an option that needs to be fully explored in every case. 


Ben Fulton is a lawyer practicing in Toronto, Ontario. He can be reached for comment via email at  bfulton@benlaw.ca, or through his website.