In Trouble: How the Promise of Diversion Clashes With The Reality of Poverty, Addiction, And Structural Racism In Alabama’s Justice System

This Alabama Appleseed report stems from a survey of 1,011 justice- involved Alabamians. Of those who have been involved in diversion– programming meant to prevent people from becoming more involved in the criminal justice system– survey respondents depict a reality where the onerous costs and time commitments drive defendants further into poverty, force them to commit more crimes, and counteract efforts to create a better life for themselves. The author provides recommendations for lawmakers, programs, and courts to follow to improve the effectiveness and fairness of diversion.

You can read the full text of the report here

Key findings
  • 55% of survey respondents reported a yearly income less than $14,999 while the median amount paid for diversion costs ($1600) was more than 10% of their total income.
  • Only 10% of respondents were offered a reduced fee or fee waiver based on their inability to pay. 
  • 28% of respondents risked being fired because they had to miss work for a court appearance related to a diversion program. 13% were fired because of these court appearances.
  • To cover costs of diversion programs: 82% of people sacrificed food, rent, or prescription medication, 45% used payday or title loans, 85% borrowed money from a family member or friend, and 42% committed crimes. 
  • The cost of diversion programs prevented one in five respondents from participating and about the same proportion were dropped from programs because they could not afford the payments.
  • Fully fund diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration. 
  • End the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for anything but dangerous driving.
  • Adopt proportionate sanctions that scale the amount an individual is fined to their financial circumstances.
  • Make individualized ability-to-pay determinations and reduce or waive all discretionary fines, costs, and fees for individuals who are unable to pay.
  • Avoid using diversion programs as a means to compel people to pay unrelated fines and fees.
  • Avoid using community service as a sanction for nonpayment or late payment of program fees.
  • Avoid using court appearances as a punishment for nonpayment.
Leah Nelson
Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice