Explainer: What is Deflection?

Explainer: What is Deflection?

Last week, The Crime Report published an article on “deflection.” ” ‘Deflection’ Opens a New Path for Justice Reformers and Crime Reduction,” said the headline of the article by Jac Charlier.

Charlier is the executive director and co-founder of Police, Treatment, and Community Collaborative (PTACC) and the executive director of the Treatment Accountability for Safety Communities (TASC) Center for Health and Justice. He is also the co-founder of the international deflection movement.

” ‘Deflection’ is an early, upstream initiative that creates supported pathways to recovery,” Charlier writes. He says that themovement “leverages encounters with law enforcement to rapidly connect people through a warm handoff to community-based treatment, housing, services, and recovery.”

“This new initiative creates a community-based framework for shared action at the intersection of police, treatment, and community, yet without threat of arrest,” Charlier continues. “Deflection relies on a simple premise: the earlier an intervention in addiction and mental health is made, while addressing disparities of access to resources, the better the outcomes that will be achieved.”

How does deflection actually work?

Charlier’s sales pitch for deflection in The Crime Report article focuses on filling in the gaps left by “diversion.” Diversion, a term used to describe alternative programs that currently play a role in the U.S. justice system, essentially uses the threat of criminal charges to compel treatment.

One of the weaknesses with diversion, of course, is that you have to enter the justice system before it’s available to you. Courts focused on drunk driving, often called “DWI courts,” are a great example. DWI courts specialize in providing treatment, supervision and accountability measures for people charged with repeat driving while intoxicated (DWI) offenses.

But to be eligible for a DWI court, you have to be charged with DWI. And, in most circumstances, you actually must face DWI charges at least twice. While anyone charged with DWI would prefer DWI court to an ordinary prosecution, diversion still puts you through the regular criminal justice system to an extent.

Deflection, on the other hand, doesn’t. Deflection involves no formal involvement in the criminal justice system beyond an initial interaction with a police officer (or another first responder) in public. Without the threat of criminal charges hanging over their heads, participants in deflection must choose to enter the program.

Image courtesy of Greg Rosenke via Unsplash.

What is an example of deflection?

The most high-profile example of deflection in practice came from the White House earlier this year. In March, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) announced the release of the Model Law Enforcement and Other First Responders Deflection Act, which it described as “a resource for states that encourages the development and use of deflection programs across the country.”

Among other things, the ONDCP’s model law

  • authorizes law enforcement and other first responders to develop and implement deflection programs that provide proactive police to individuals who are at risk for future calls and alternatives for eligible individuals to
    • traditional case processing,
    • involvement in the justice system and
    • unnecessary admission to emergency departments for non-life threatening drug use;
  • offer immediate pathways to treatment, recovery services, housing, medication for addiction treatment, family services and other support via peer support and case management for
    • individuals at risk of future contact with law enforcement or
    • individuals living with substance abuse disorder, mental health disorder or co-occurring disorders;
  • require deflection programs to have certain parts to be eligible for grant funding from the state administering agency on criminal justice; and
  • require agencies establishing deflection programs to develop a memorandum of understanding that is agreed to by all deflection program partners.
Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

The Takeaway:

You may think about “diversion” programs as an alternative to the ordinary criminal justice system in the U.S. But it’s actually not an alternative to the ordinary system; it’s part of it. Deflection, on the other hand, is an alternative that removes the stigma of the criminal justice system from the process entirely.

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