Deferred Prosecution Programs (DPP) provide a voluntary alternative to adjudication in which a prosecutor agrees to grant the defendant dispensation in exchange for fulfilling certain requirements. Originally developed to efficiently process low-level charges post-charge and pre-adjudication, DPPs have expanded to include interventions and problem-solving. DPP is seen as the ‘first wave’ of prosecutor-led criminal-legal reform, which takes place under a burgeoning risk-management ideology marked by prevention, which is considered a cost-effective way to address (generally) low-level offenses under the evidence-based framework of risk and needs assessment coupled with intervention (e.g. substance abuse treatment, CBT, and case management). The research that will be presented is part of a larger study on the development, implementation and effectiveness of DPP within two large jurisdictions in the midwestern United States. The following presentation will focus on the following research question: How do stakeholders describe issues of eligibility of DPP and within this, who are described as ideal, and less ideal candidates?
Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 24 DPP stakeholders (professional stakeholders, representatives from the prosecutor’s offices at each site, public defenders, judges, treatment providers, court officers, private attorneys), which were then recorded and transcribed verbatim. Interviews, along with program documents from court/meeting observations were coded through thematic analysis using Dedoose software. Conventional content analysis was applied, with open coding conducted independently by the research team who subsequently generated a consolidated code list, applied generated codes, and resolved any discrepancies.
Our analysis yielded two themes: (1) The ‘second chance’ offered via DPP was discursively tied to ensuring responsibility on the part of participants: When describing the second chance extended to DPP participants, stakeholders emphasized the self-discipline and responsibility required to complete the program. This rhetoric could partially be attributed to stakeholders’ concern with being perceived as overly ‘soft’ on crime. (2) The second theme to emerge was around managing ‘risk’ and issues of accountability, namely found in discussions of ideal program participants and eligibility criteria. Participants who were deemed more suitable to DPP were characterized as younger, employed and overall less ‘entangled’ in the system. Participants less suitable for DPP, a handful of stakeholders related themes of responsibility, deserving versus undeserving, clients who showed an ‘interest’ in the program as well as themes of self-discipline.
Conclusion & Implications for Social Work
It is important to state that DPP was envisioned as a way to reduce the variation in opportunities for a ‘second chance,’ a movement away from a ‘just punishment’ approach and an opportunity for a ‘clean’ slate with the broader goal of avoiding deepened criminal-legal involvement. Yet, this presentation helps us to consider, under ideologies of risk-management and the onset of evidence-based rationality, what types of participants are metaphorically left ‘off the table’ both in their eligibility for and capacity to complete DPP? Implications for social work will be discussed, including methods for as well as barriers to broadening eligibility for DPP.