Amidst concerns that U.S. prisons and jails are filling up with people who have committed drug offenses, most states now have alternatives called diversion programs. These programs allow low-level offenders – such as people who are arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana or committed other non-violent crimes like shoplifting – to avoid prosecution. The requirements vary from state to state but can include things like drug treatment, anger-management classes, finding a job, or even getting a G.E.D. It sounds like a win-win, but unfortunately, participation in a diversion program can end up costing the offender quite a bit of money.

Here’s how it works, using California as an example. First, the offender must agree to waive their right to a jury trial. The case will then be postponed for enough time to allow the defendant to complete drug classes, attend AA meetings, or do community service, depending on the charge and their situation. If the defendant meets the obligations, the case will be dismissed.

Before any of this can happen, there are some eligibility requirements. The defendant cannot have been convicted within the previous five years for any offense involving narcotic substances, excepting those listed in the relevant statute, which includes public intoxication, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia, among others. The crime committed cannot have been violent. There cannot have been another, contemporaneous drug violation committed. The defendant cannot have any prior felony convictions within the previous five years.

If the prosecuting attorney, the court, or the probation department believe that the offender is not performing satisfactorily in treatment or community service, they may be terminated from the diversion program and face trial.

The problem is that while some of these conditions are free or cheap, some of them cost quite a bit of money. For instance, taking the GED can cost up to $150, which is a lot for someone who is already suffering financial difficulties as a result of their drug use or unemployment. There are also a variety of fees that might be imposed. The terms of the agreements are left up to prosecutors, who often benefit directly from the fees.


A lawsuit was filed in August 2018 in the United States District Court in Phoenix, seeking monetary damages for participants in the Maricopa County diversion program. The suit alleges that County Attorney Bill Montgomery preyed on and benefited from people in the program. There is a $1,000 fee, and $650 of that goes to Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. Wealthy people are easily able to pay and go about their lives, while the poor end up being kicked out of the program and prosecuted. Arizona has some of the harshest drug laws in the country, and possession of even a small amount of marijuana can be a felony.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.