Evaluation of prosecutor-led gun diversion programs fuses research, policy, and practice


Researchers at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice have launched a two-year project to study prosecutor-led gun diversion programs (PLGDP). Funded by the Joyce Foundation, the project launched September 1, 2021 and will conclude in 2023.

"This is the first major study I know of that focuses on this very new type of program," said project leader Matt Epperson, associate professor in the Crown Family School.

PLGDPs divert people charged with illegal gun possession or other gun-related offenses from traditional court proceedings in exchange for taking part in a special program that will result in charge dismissal upon successful program completion.

Epperson and two Crown Family School colleagues—Hanna Sharif-Kazemi and Hannah Lee—have issued a report titled "Principles of Prosecutor-Led Gun Diversion Programming: The National Landscape and Current Trends."

"This kind of gun diversion work is being done in many different cities in different ways and interest for them is growing," said Hannah Lee of the Crown Family School's Smart Decarceration Project (SDP). "More prosecutors' offices are exploring them as an option if they haven't started a program yet."

In early October the SDP and the Joyce Foundation co-convened a two-day meeting to discuss gun diversion as an approach to decarceration and reducing gun violence. More than 30 researchers, community service providers, and prosecutor staff from five cities in the Midwest and East Coast attended the meeting.

One prosecutor's office partnering with the Crown Family School's SDP expressed their hopes for this work.

"Through this partnership we expect to research, identify, and evaluate effective interventions that connect low-level offenders charged with the illegal possession of a weapon, to services that de-escalate the risk of potential or future violence and prevent individuals with little or no other criminal history from obtaining a conviction," said the prosecutor's office, in an official statement.

"We must work to continue to address root causes of public safety. In doing so, we must challenge our definitions of accountability—definitions that were born out of systems rooted in discrimination and oppression—and work to interrupt cycles of violence before they begin."

At the Joyce Foundation we support work that contributes to safe and just communities," said foundation program officer Quintin Williams. "One of the ways we do this is supporting research and evaluation to see what works, under what circumstances, and when these interventions are appropriate. For too long, he said, incarceration has been accepted as the most appropriate intervention for gun-related offenses. "This work aims to understand situations where this is not the case. This body of work will be important as we reimagine the future of public safety in the United States."

Click here to read the full story. 

This story was first published by UChicago's Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.  

Back to News
Related articles