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Research Questions

  1. How have the deflection programs involved in this study been implemented, and how has the process been viewed by key stakeholders?
  2. What factors have facilitated or hindered the implementation of these programs and the attainment of their objectives?
  3. What are the most pressing practical considerations facing deflection programs and the communities they serve?
  4. What is the impact of program adoption on overdose and crime rates in the county?

Many law enforcement and other first responder agencies have adopted deflection as a front-line response to the increasing number of drug overdoses and deaths in the United States over the past two decades. Deflection programs aim to connect individuals with substance use disorder (not necessarily limited to opioids or one particular substance) who encounter the criminal justice system with treatment and other services according to the individual's needs.

This report describes the findings from a multi-site evaluation of law enforcement deflection in the United States. The authors describe how each program is implemented and identify key program facilitators and barriers. For two of the six sites, the authors conducted outcome analyses to determine whether the model is effective in reducing drug-related deaths and overdoses, arrests, and treatment admissions.

Key Findings

  • Deflection programs in the United States can take many shapes and forms, but there are some trends emerging: gradual incorporation of additional pathways; an overall move toward greater complexity and breadth of service provision, including the coexistence of other diversion programs in the area; and a move toward the professionalization of deflection (e.g., needing own staff, formulation of best practices).
  • Qualitatively, perspectives from stakeholders suggest positive results in terms of (1) individual participant journeys, (2) change in policing practice and views, (3) reductions in stigma, and (4) stakeholder and community buy-in.
  • Facilitators of implementation can also be identified, primarily as strong partnerships and champions.
  • Barriers include persistence of stigma, distrust of police, and challenges pertaining to services for people who use drugs writ large, such as treatment capacity and payment methods.
  • The outcome analyses for one site (Lake County, Illinois) suggest a reduction in fatal overdoses and in property crime arrests, but findings for the other site (Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts) are mostly null, likely because of the small sample size.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the National Institute of Justice and conducted in the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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