Abstract: Strategy to Augment Diversion Programs: The Case for Financial Capability and Asset Building (Society for Social Work and Research 28th Annual Conference - Recentering & Democratizing Knowledge: The Next 30 Years of Social Work Science)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Eastern Standard Time Zone (EST).

SSWR 2024 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 11. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

Strategy to Augment Diversion Programs: The Case for Financial Capability and Asset Building

Saturday, January 13, 2024
Marquis BR Salon 14, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Lissa Johnson, MSW, Director, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
Margaret Sherraden, PhD, Research Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, St Louis, MO
Jude Miller, BA, MSW Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Carrie Pettus, PhD, Principal, Justice System Partners, Easton, MA
Jin Huang, PhD, Professor, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO
Background and Purpose: The US prison system has become a system of mass incarceration with the unfortunate rank of the largest population in the world. Yet, many incarcerated individuals have committed nonviolent offenses or are confined because they could not pay fines or fees. One of the means of addressing this costly overpopulation is through diversion programs, which direct justice involved individuals away from traditional legal processing and toward programs and services aimed at deterring them from future crime. However, diversion programming is not standardized, and may not adequately address the circumstances that led individuals to break the law in the first place. Key among those circumstances hardships such as unemployment, homelessness, lack of economic opportunity, and racial bias. Innovative interventions in financial capability and asset building (FCAB) for low-income families were introduced and tested beginning in the late 1990s. Interventions include financial education, coaching, access to safe and affordable financial services, and asset building. The evidence from programs led by nonprofit and governmental agencies, including re-entry programs, shows that such interventions can improve family financial well-being, but evidence on FCAB services in diversion programs is limited. This paper examines the potential of FCAB services in diversion programs to reduce criminal activity.

Methods: The authors conducted reviews of the history and evidence of diversion practices and outcomes, and evidence on financial capability and asset building in criminal justice and other settings. The authors then applied the FCAB conceptual framework to different potential exit points from incarceration after involvement in the criminal justice system, including deflection, pre-trial and post-trial diversion, and specialty court diversion.

Results: The authors use the FCAB conceptual framework to develop a program model for design and operations that integrates FCAB services in diversion programming. The authors stress the importance of conducting financial assessments at the outset to tailor individual needs within a standard set of program services. An educational infrastructure built into some diversion programs could be expanded to include household financial management and budget mechanisms to provide manageable bail, restitution, and other fee payments. Financial guidance could include education and assistance toward accessible, affordable and safe financial products and services including credit repair and credit building, or asset building opportunities such as matched savings programs to build resources for education, housing, business/employment development, or retirement.

Conclusions and Implications: This paper provides direction for including FCAB interventions in diversion programming to improve outcomes for individuals who have made contact with the criminal justice system. Issues such as inadequate housing or childcare, previous involvement with the criminal legal system, addiction, lack of access to employment, are all rooted in financial vulnerability. Such vulnerability can be alleviated by FCAB services, but the extent to which they do so deserves further testing. Providing such interventions earlier in justice involvement can be viewed more largely as a diversion from an old system of inequities to a new standardized system that empowers individuals to take an actionable path toward greater economic stability and financial wellbeing.