The programs raise legal and ethical questions, including whether they create an uneven playing field for defendants and financial incentives for prosecutors to dispose of cases in ways they might not otherwise.
After he was charged in January with burglary, D’Angelo Springer had a decision to make.
Springer, 24, had been pulled over after running a stop sign in Kankakee County. He was giving a ride to an acquaintance, who had an arrest warrant in a neighboring county. When officers searched the car, according to police reports, they found a checkbook behind the passenger seat that had been taken in a car break-in. Springer denied he was involved, but he was charged with felony burglary, which could have sent him to prison.
Before trial, the Kankakee County prosecutors gave Springer another option: He could enroll in a new diversion program the county was offering. If he completed the program and performed community service, his charges would be dropped.
Signing up for the program cost $250, money Springer would have to scrape together.
“They were saying: ‘This is a good deal. You should take it,’” Springer said recently. “I didn’t really know I had another option.” Frightened by the prospect of prison, he agreed to the diversion program.
Diversion programs like the one in Kankakee County, which launched last year, raise a host of legal and ethical questions, including whether they create an uneven playing field for criminal defendants, with those able to pay gaining an advantage over those who cannot, and whether they create financial incentives for prosecutors to dispose of cases in ways they might not otherwise.
Administered by a for-profit company called CorrectiveSolutions, the Kankakee County program and others like it require suspects to pay fees and take courses related to their charges — some of the courses in person, others through interactive online seminars. Prosecutors also may add conditions such as community service or drug or alcohol testing. Fees are divided between the companies and the prosecutor’s office, though the companies typically receive most of the money.
Kankakee is one of 24 counties in Illinois that contract with CorrectiveSolutions, or a sister firm, Victim Services Inc., to run fee-based diversion programs. Twenty-two of those counties use programs to manage bad-check cases, the company’s bread and butter, though as the use of checks has declined CorrectiveSolutions has expanded to offer diversion programs for other, sometimes more serious crimes, including theft, drug and alcohol offenses, and even domestic violence.
At least 10 Illinois counties contract with another firm, BounceBack Inc., that offers diversion programs for suspects in bad-check cases. Kankakee County also has a contract with BounceBack.