Active Projects

Formative Evaluation of Prosecutor Led Gun Diversion Programs

Principal Investigator: Matt Epperson, PhD, MSW – Smart Decarceration Project, University of Chicago

Funder: Joyce Foundation

Study Period: 2021-2023


Prosecutors’ offices are a critical site for criminal legal reform and decarceration, as they respond to important issues such as gun violence and work to uphold public safety. Prosecutor-led diversion programs (PLDPs) are an innovative front-end criminal legal intervention that divert people charged with a variety of criminal offenses from traditional court processing if they agree to participate in program requirements in return for dismissal of their charge(s). PLDPs offer an opportunity to provide meaningful services while avoiding the consequences of deeper criminal legal system involvement. However, little is known about how PLDPs could be expanded to include higher-risk, more complex cases in order to address issues of violence and racial disparities.  

Gun diversion programs are an emerging PLDP that target people charged with illegal gun possession or other gun-related charges, most of whom in larger cities are young men of color. Gun diversion programs have the ability to serve two functions: (1) help young adults avoid deeper involvement in the criminal legal system; and (2) provide meaningful interventions to a group at increased risk for gun violence. To our knowledge, there is no published research on gun diversion programmatic models or their effectiveness. If gun diversion programs are to be successful and have an impact on gun violence, formative research is needed to understand their inner workings, for whom they work, and why. 

The purpose of this study, funded by the Joyce Foundation, is to examine the development and initial implementation of gun diversion programs to build the knowledge base on this innovative form of PLDP. This study focuses on newly developing gun diversion programs in three cities in the Midwestern United States.  

The Smart Decarceration Project team has previously conducted some of the only studies of PLDPs, focusing on program development and implementation. This project will build on the previous study by further examining gun diversion programs, their development and implementation, and their capacity to achieve just and equitable outcomes and address issues of violence. Building evidence on gun diversion programs could have significant impact on addressing a range of issues related to gun violence and public safety while minimizing the ineffective use of incarceration.