What is Diversion?

(Western Cape Government)
Summary
Young people who have been accused of a crime are often diverted out of the official criminal justice system, with or without special conditions, and into programmes aimed at developing life skills as an alternative to spending time in prison.
  1. Why is diversion better than prison?
  2. What is diversion?
  3. Is diversion a "soft option"?
  4. Who is a candidate for diversion?
  5. What are the different types of diversion?
  6. What kinds of diversion programmes are there?
  7. Who monitors the child's adherence to a diversion order?

1. WHY IS DIVERSION BETTER THAN PRISON?
There is the concern that young offenders who enter the official criminal justice system will be disadvantaged for the rest of their lives and become more likely to resort to criminal activities in the future. It is hoped that by intervening with suitable skills and interpersonal training early on, this track can be avoided.

2. WHAT IS DIVERSION?
Diversion is closely linked to the idea of restorative justice. Restorative justice involves offenders accepting responsibility for the crime committed, making amends for what they have done and initiating a healing process for themselves, their families, the victims and the community. The goal of restorative justice is for offenders to rejoin the law-abiding community and prevent re-offending.

IS DIVERSION A "SOFT OPTION"?
No. It is an appropriate intervention for children who have broken the law. It aims to make children understand the impact of their crimes on others and to make sure that they put right what they have done wrong. This is done by providing specific interventions like guidance programmes for the child concerned, and by helping families and the community learn how to better guide children in their decisions.

WHO IS A CANDIDATE FOR DIVERSION?
A child (under the age of 18) must voluntarily admit to the crime before being considered for diversion.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF DIVERSION?
There are three levels of diversion, ranked from least (Level One) to most difficult (Level Three).

Level One Diversion
Level One Diversion is the easiest option. It involves tasks such as:

  • Written apologies
  • Obligatory family time
  • Counselling or therapy
  • Symbolic restitution
Level One orders may be for a maximum of three months.

Level Two Diversion
Level Two Diversion includes orders contained in Level One Diversion, with the possible addition of:

  • A maximum of 50 hours of community service over six months
  • Family group conferences
  • Victim-offender mediation

Level Two orders may be for a maximum of six months.

Level Three Diversion
This is the most difficult diversion options and only applies to children older than 14 years. It includes the following options:

  • A residential element, that is, the child will live away from home for part of the programme
  • Community service of up to 250 hours over a year

WHAT KINDS OF DIVERSION PROGRAMMES ARE THERE?
A diversion order may include an order to complete any number of diversion programmes available. These programmes are run by the provincial Department of Social Development and non-governmental/non-profit organisations like NICRO.

WHO MONITORS THE CHILD'S ADHERENCE TO A DIVERSION ORDER?
A probation officer must assess a child who has been arrested and, if the child is a suitable candidate for diversion, make this recommendation at a preliminary inquiry. If the child is given a diversion order, they are responsible for making sure that the child adheres to it.

If a child fails to comply with any condition of a diversion option, it is the probation officer's duty to inform the inquiry magistrate.

The content on this page was last updated on 15 March 2014