We spoke to the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, Simon Foster, and his Policy Officer, Dan Gordon, about the DIVERT scheme in the West Midlands.
The West Midlands Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) has commissioned a Pre-Arrest Drug Diversion scheme, which was rolled out in October 2020, and is now taking place across the seven local authorities of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton in the West Midlands.
The DIVERT programme is available to anyone (young people and adults) found in possession of any illicit substance, however, it is not available to those suspected of intending to supply an illicit substance. It allows drug users to receive a non-criminal sanction (Community Resolution), rather than a more traditional outcome such as a cannabis warning or arrest and subsequent prosecution. This is a non-statutory, out of court disposal for officers to utilise and does not lead to a criminal record. Repeated engagement with a programme is sometimes required to change behaviour and therefore multiple Community Resolutions will be possible for ‘simple possession of drugs’ offences, provided the individual engages with the programme after each referral. It is not a deferred prosecution model – the individual does not need to abide by the conditions that have been set by the police in order to avoid prosecution for the offence. However, if they choose not to engage in the programme at all after their first offence, they will not be offered the opportunity to attend DIVERT again.
Changing the landscape
The purpose of this scheme is to adopt a public health and educational approach to the use of controlled drugs; educating people about the harmful effects of the drugs they are using, and where necessary, encourage them into harm prevention treatment. The programme’s flexibility also allows for referrals into other services when required, for example: housing, further drug treatment, Citizens Advice Bureau and mental health services.
While funding comes directly and solely from West Midlands OPCC, the strategy of the OPCC and West Midlands Police is to work with partners and divert individuals away from the criminal justice system into the most appropriate intervention. In this instance they have partnered with substance misuse treatment providers Cranstoun, who deliver the DIVERT programme itself. If a person agrees to the referral, an appointment for the initial assessment can be made on the spot by a police officer via the Cranstoun App. This means booking of appointments can be completed on the street whilst with the person concerned. The process is the same for young people, however, any referral in this case must be made in the presence of an appropriate adult. Funding for the scheme is secured until at least March 2022.
Preliminary work from WMP shows that 89% of the individuals who attended DIVERT in the first month had not been arrested for drug possession offences in the following six months. A more thorough evaluation that looks into the effect of DIVERT on reoffending, in comparison to a control group who could not access the service, will be carried out by WMP after the first year of delivery.
WMP have received positive feedback from Magistrates; who are encouraged by this scheme, as they see ‘too many people in court for simple possession offences’ and ‘all they can do is fine them’, or give out short prison sentences. Feedback from service users has also been positive, with those engaging in the programme responding positively to how accessible, informative and impactful DIVERT has been.
DIVERT™ is a registered trademark of Cranstoun
This case-study was compiled by Jason Watt in 2021