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Research Questions

  1. Who participates in Project Reset?
  2. What were the key implementation strengths and challenges experienced by program staff, and how did prosecutors and program providers overcome the challenges?
  3. What is the effect of Project Reset on case outcomes and future rearrests?
  4. What are the participants' reasons for participating in diversion and their satisfaction level with program services? In what ways have program services addressed or not addressed their needs? What barriers are there to access?
  5. What are the fiscal costs of early diversion programs compared to the traditional court process?

In this report, RAND researchers share results of a process and outcome evaluation of Project Reset, a program that diverts adults arrested for low-level crimes into community-based support programs and out of the court system. Initially, the post-arrest pre-arraignment program was available only to individuals who did not have a criminal record, but the eligibility criteria eventually expanded to include those with prior convictions. The program served 2,149 individuals during the period analyzed. Researchers identified key program facilitators and barriers, documented participant experiences, determined the effect the program had on case outcomes and rearrest rates, and examined whether the program was cost-effective.

Key Findings

  • Project Reset led to improved case outcomes for participants. The program allowed individuals to attend a one-time, two-hour programming session and have their arrest sealed immediately afterwards. If not for the program, these individuals likely would have received an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) in the court system. Receiving an ACD would have required them to remain arrest-free and make multiple court appearances over a six-month to one-year supervisory period.
  • Project Reset did not lead to an increase in rearrests.
  • Project Reset was viewed favorably among staff and program participants.
  • Lack of reliable and accurate contact information for participants was a major barrier to recruitment, as 49 percent of those referred to Project Reset could not be reached by the provider.
  • Inequities in program completion may compound existing disparities in the criminal legal system. Outreach difficulties resulted in White Hispanic, Black non-Hispanic, and Black Hispanic individuals composing 65.2 percent of the population referred to Project Reset, but only 58.8% of program completers.
  • Under the existing program cost structure, the program costs outweighed the costs of traditional court adjudication. However, this relationship varied substantially by provider, and the program costs were actually significantly less expensive than court costs for the provider that served the largest number of clients.
  • Program cost-effectiveness would improve if the ratio of program staff to participants were lower, which could be accomplished either by lowering staff levels or increasing the number of participants.

Recommendations

  • Strategize how to collect better contact information for participants.
  • Increase public awareness of the program to improve its credibility when programs conduct outreach.
  • Examine whether current program eligibility criteria are leading to racial and ethnic disparities in program referral rates.
  • Reduce program provision costs by lowering the staff-to-participant ratio, which could be accomplished by either reducing the number of staff or increasing program caseloads.
  • Assess whether other populations could benefit from diversion programming.
  • Continue to hire, support, and keep well-qualified staff.
  • Support staff autonomy and program flexibility.
  • Continue to connect participants with needed services after completion.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by City University of New York's Institute for State and Local Governance and conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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