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Diversion from Prosecution to Social Work and Other Service Agencies: Evaluation of the 100% Funding Pilot Programmes: 1999 - Research Findings

DescriptionThe pilot schemes were monitored and this study was commissioned to evaluate their first 18 months of operation.
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateMarch 03, 2000
Crime and Criminal Justice Research Findings No. 37Diversion from Prosecution to Social Work and other Service Agencies:
Evaluation of the 100% Funding Pilot Programmes: 1999

Monica Barry and Gill McIvor, University of Stirling

In 1997, The Scottish Office provided 100 per cent funding for 18 pilot schemes that enabled Procurators Fiscal to divert accused charged with minor offences from prosecution to social work and other service agencies. The pilot schemes were monitored and this study was commissioned to evaluate their first 18 months of operation.

Main Findings

  • There was wide endorsement for diversion from prosecution among Procurators Fiscal, social work staff and accused.
  • Procurators Fiscal and diversion staff did not always have a shared understanding of the model of diversion in operation locally and did not always communicate the implications of deferred and waived models of diversion clearly and unambiguously to accused.
  • The characteristics of accused referred to and accepted onto diversion programmes and the types of services provided to accused differed across schemes. Accused in general social work schemes were most likely and those in mediation and reparation schemes least likely to have a range of problems.
  • One-to-one counselling was the most common approach to service delivery in general social work schemes and with female accused. By contrast, relatively structured approaches were more often identified as being used in substance misuse schemes and in interventions undertaken with young men.
  • Addressing alcohol or drug misuse and addressing offending were the most common objectives of social work diversion, while financial reparation was the most common objective of agreements negotiated in mediation and reparation schemes. The majority of individual objectives in both types of scheme were thought by workers to have been achieved.
  • Diversion is not a cheap alternative to prosecution, with a successfully completed social work case costing, on average, £885 and a completed agreement in mediation and reparation costing, on average, £568. It is likely that costs per case will, however, reduce, as schemes become better established and the time spent in development/promotional work consequently declines. Furthermore, some schemes were operating below capacity such that costs per case would be lower if a higher throughput of cases were achieved.


In Scotland, responsibility for criminal prosecution rests with the Procurator Fiscal, who has discretionary powers to ensure that alleged offenders are dealt with in the most appropriate way, having due regard to the public interest. In recent years increased use has been made of alternatives to prosecution, such as fiscal fines, warning letters and diversion to social work and other service agencies. When considering the potential to divert a case from prosecution,Procurators Fiscal can either decide to waive the possibility of prosecuting a case (waiver model) or defer the decision about whether or not to prosecute until the outcome of diversion is known (deferred model). Since May 1997 the government has made available pilot 100 per cent funding to 18 diversion schemes. These included general social work schemes, substance misuse schemes and mediation and reparation schemes (which aim to resolve the alleged offence through the negotiation of an agreement between the victim and the accused). This study reports on the monitoring and evaluation of the pilot schemes.


The study methods included the analysis of monitoring data on the characteristics and progress of over 2500 referrals to the schemes over an 18 month period. More detailed information about the process of diversion - the personal characteristics of accused and the types of services they received - was analysed for 196 social work diversion cases and 130 cases accepted for mediation and reparation who had agreed to having information about them made available to the researchers.

In addition the research involved analysis of reconviction data for accused who had been diverted; analysis of questionnaires completed by accused at the end of their period of diversion; interviews with accused; and interviews with Procurators Fiscal, social work managers, diversion staff and other service providers in a sample of five case study schemes.

Referral and assessment

The rate of referrals to diversion schemes was variable and was influenced by a number of factors such as the appropriateness of cases and the capacity of the scheme. Potential cases for diversion were identified from police reports which were said to differ in the quality of social information they contained. Regular meetings between diversion staff and the Procurator Fiscal provided an opportunity to discuss existing cases and scrutinise potential referrals, with the view being expressed that they should take place at least monthly to prevent a backlog of cases and unnecessary delays. Procurators Fiscal and diversion staff were generally agreed as to the purposes of diversion and the types of cases for which diversion might be appropriate. This was reflected in a high proportion of referrals (for instance, 88 per cent of those to social work schemes) being assessed. Social work diversion was thought to be appropriate for accused charged with minor offences whose alleged offending was related to underlying problems which they were motivated to address. Mediation and reparation was said to be appropriate in cases of minor offending involving an identifiable victim.

Work undertaken in the context of diversion

These criteria were reflected in the characteristics of cases referred to and accepted for diversion and in the nature of work undertaken with accused accepted for diversion. Addressing alcohol or drug misuse and offending, providing help in respect of family or relationship problems or helping the accused to access other services were the most common objectives of social work diversion.

Counselling was the approach most commonly adopted in the general social work schemes while substance misuse programmes most often employed educational and cognitive behavioural techniques. Intervention was usually undertaken by designated diversion workers or by social workers and most often took the form of one-to-one work. The average duration of intervention was around three months, being slightly shorter for substance misuse programmes. Around a quarter of accused - all from general social work schemes - were referred to specialist agencies in connection with their problems.

Agreements negotiated in mediation and reparation schemes most commonly involved financial reparation, non-harassment undertakings or an apology, with the nature of the agreement varying according to the nature of the alleged offence. The majority of cases were completed within three months, though some agreements were monitored for up to six months.

The outcomes of diversion

Thirteen of the 196 social work diversion cases where data about termination were available, were terminated as a result of non-compliance, though only four accused were subsequently prosecuted and one referred to the reporter to the children's hearings system. All of the 91 mediation cases in which an agreement had been reached and about which termination data were available, were completed successfully. A breakdown in the process, if it occurred, tended to take place during the negotiation of an agreement between the victim and the accused. The majority of accused therefore completed their period on diversion successfully and the majority of the objectives set between diversion staff and accused were recorded by diversion staff as having been fully or mostly achieved by the time diversion ended.

For the 111 accused for whom information about further charges was available, ten (out of 46) on social work diversion programmes and 17 (out of 65) from mediation and reparation schemes had further charges or convictions recorded against them. Further charges or convictions were more common among younger accused and those with previous convictions.

Professionals' views of diversion

Procurators Fiscal and diversion staff believed that diversion was often a more appropriate and effective response to minor offending than prosecution. Diversion was thought to be equally effective whether it involved waived or deferred prosecution. It was suggested that the effectiveness and efficiency of diversion was dependent upon the existence of dedicated diversion staff. Professionals were generally in favour of expanding diversion schemes within Scotland though this would require the existing criteria for appropriateness to be re-examined. Possible developments included the increased use of groupwork and the targeting of diversion upon particular groups, such as young offenders, those with mental health problems or learning disabilities, drug users and women. Broad support was also expressed for the expansion of mediation and reparation schemes to those authorities in which services of this type did not currently exist

Accused persons' views of diversion

Many accused who had been diverted from prosecution expressed relief at having been able to avoid the embarrassment, anxiety or stigma associated with a court appearance. Accused often suggested that prosecution would have exacerbated their problems and would have addressed neither the alleged offending nor the circumstances surrounding it. Accused who had participated in a social work diversion programme were almost unanimously agreed that the experience had been helpful in resolving their problems, reducing their risk of further offending and accessing appropriate supports. Most accused on mediation and reparation schemes reported that they had a better understanding of the impact of their offending on their victim, with just under half believing that their attitude towards their victim had changed as a result.

Waiver and deferment

Some confusion sometimes occurred with respect to waiver and deferment models of diversion, with Procurators Fiscal and diversion staff adopting different interpretations of the operational arrangements in their scheme. Accused often appeared not to appreciate the implications of the waiver model and suggested that formal communication about the status of accused on completion of a diversion programme could be improved. The two models of diversion were perceived to have advantages and disadvantages, with a slight preference expressed by Procurators Fiscal and diversion staff for deferred prosecution. However more respondents expressed support for a dual model in which prosecution could be waived or deferred depending upon the circumstances of the case.

Diversion as an alternative to prosecution

The extent to which diversion operated as a strict alternative to prosecution could not readily be determined, since it appears likely that in some cases diversion replaced prosecution while in others it replaced other alternatives to prosecution such as warning letters or fiscal fines. For example, two schemes provided information about the outcomes of unsuccessful referrals: in one scheme 72 per cent of cases referred unsuccessfully to the diversion scheme and in the other area 96 per cent of those referred were not subsequently prosecuted in the district or sheriff court. Cases that were assessed for diversion but not accepted were rarely prosecuted and unsuccessful diversion cases were not, it appears, automatically prosecuted. However, changed circumstances of the accused and improved information about the alleged offence was often furnished by the diversion assessment. This could result in Procurators Fiscal reviewing their attitudes towards prosecution in individual cases.

The costs of diversion

An analysis of scheme expenditure allocated to activities suggested that a successfully completed social work diversion case cost, on average, £885 and a completed mediation and reparation case cost £568. Whilst there are cost savings to other parts of the criminal justice system if diversion is used as an alternative to prosecution, these savings do not accrue if diversion replaces other alternatives to prosecution such as warning letters or fiscal fines. Diversion cases which are not completed successfully - though relatively few in number - become substantially more expensive if they are subsequently prosecuted in court. However, some schemes were operating below capacity, suggesting that costs per case would be lower if a higher throughput of cases were achieved. The costs of diversion versus prosecution would also, arguably, be more comparable if diversion was targeted upon more serious cases which would otherwise be dealt with in the sheriff court.


The costs of diversion must be set against its potential benefits. Procurators Fiscal and diversion staff suggested that diversion was more likely than prosecution to address underlying problems or, in the case of mediation and reparation, to result in a more satisfactory resolution of the alleged offence. The comparative costs of diversion and prosecution should, therefore, be recognised as being only one dimension of a much wider picture which includes the public interest, the need to make reparation for damage caused by offending and the welfare needs of individuals who have become caught up in the criminal justice system. Moreover, the costs of diversion need to be set against the other benefits to the accused, to victims and, if further offending is prevented, to society.

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