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Indybay Feature

Diversion Program Funds Need Legal Protection

by Mike Tredowski (tredowskim [at] sonoma.edu)
Why the funding of diversion programs needs to be made independent from the influence of law enforcement and its interests.
An overwhelming amount of evidence demonstrates that diversion programs are greatly effective at reducing recidivism (a term used to describe the recurrence of criminal offense) among individuals in the criminal system. Diversion programs offer the chance for individuals to rehabilitate the behaviors that have compelled them into a perpetual cycle of crime. As with many aspects of life in capitalist society, however, what ends up prevailing is not necessarily what works best, but what works best for profit. This is why diversion programs are, even in a state as allegedly progressive as California, still few and underfunded. Additionally, the little funding that is secured by these programs ends up being tied to expectations that are often counterproductive to these programs’ goals.

I recently spoke with Rafael Vazquez, who has been involved in gang prevention work for over twenty-five years in the North Bay. During our interview, I learned that besides the problem of severely limited access to public funding, such programs’ funds are very often tied to quid-pro-quo expectations from law enforcement, as well. This means that a program’s effectiveness in reducing recidivism is not considered on its own enough to merit continued funding — rather, funding is often guaranteed only with the additional expectation that law enforcement will have access to data from participants. In other words, jeopardizing participants’ anonymity, and encouraging “snitching,'' is seen as a prerequisite for continued maintenance of funding. It has also sometimes been the case that probation departments have threatened to revoke funding if their security officers are not allowed to be present during program meetings and activities. Such factors add additional difficulties to the survival of these already struggling programs.

Enacting a state law in California that would make funding not beholden to a quid-pro-quo, but simply based on a program’s deliverables, would be a critical step in the right direction. Data on the success of diversion programs in reducing recidivism is overwhelming (one such now-defunded program once ran by Rafael Vazquez in Santa Rosa saw 93 out of 100 participants not reoffending). Enacting new laws is no easy process, and especially so without the resources and help of high-paid lobbyists at one's disposal. However, California at least has the option of statewide initiatives, which can be placed on the ballot through the grassroots organization of voters simply gathering a specified number of signatures. The first step we need, as citizens and activists, is to spread the word on this issue, to demand a public discourse. Crime is still a very much relevant issue in California, and we now have a very clear and real solution to greatly reducing it. Spreading the word on diversion programs and advocating for their independence in funding is another crucial step in reforming our whole justice system to actually work for the benefit of its citizens.

Mike Tredowski grew up in a Polish immigrant family in San Francisco in the ‘90s. His dad was a proud member of the IBEW Local 6, which was key in helping to provide his family a middle class life. Mike is a co-founder and Director of Compass Human Services in Santa Rosa, a company that supports people with developmental disabilities with finding and maintaining long-term competitive employment. He is looking forward to completing his undergrad in Sociology at SSU next year, and possibly pursuing postgraduate studies in Applied Behavior Analysis.
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