Incarceration Alternative and Diversion Programs: Improved Strategy, Data, and Coordination Could Help County Meet Goals
December 13, 2022
We found that a lack of systemwide strategic direction and coordination on data and goals makes it difficult to determine whether programs that divert people from or provide an alternative to incarceration are achieving intended outcomes and addressing racial disparities. King County has 12 adult incarceration alternative and diversion programs. While some programs receive regular monitoring and have undergone evaluation, others have never been evaluated, meaning decision-makers and the public do not have information on the effectiveness of these programs. We recommend better cross-agency coordination on data and goal setting, which will help county leaders and partners improve alternative and diversion programs and track progress toward criminal legal reform and racial equity goals.
Watch the presentation (11:38)
Without clear data and goals to track program effectiveness, King County risks underserving its residents, not achieving intended transformational change within the criminal legal system, and perpetuating harm and inequities caused by incarceration. Programs that divert people from and provide alternatives to incarceration are one way to help achieve larger criminal legal reform and anti-racism goals. Although King County decreased its adult average daily population in its jails to 1,300 people in 2021; in 2022, it rose above 1,500. Time in jail can lead to negative impacts such as job loss and housing instability. These impacts are worse for Black people because they are disproportionally represented in Washington state jails and prisons. For King County to manage current alternative programs, county actors need an understanding of what efforts exist and whether those efforts are working effectively.
We found that county decision-makers lack key information about the effectiveness of programs that divert people from, or provide an alternative to, incarceration. King County has 12 adult incarceration alternative and diversion programs. Several of these programs, including some of the County’s longest-standing programs, have never received an evaluation. Evaluation helps county agencies, leaders, partners, and the public understand where more work or change is needed. We found that programs that received evaluations had monitoring evaluation plans and requirements.
While county leaders have stated systemwide goals for criminal legal reform, including maintaining low jail populations and eliminating racial disparities, the County lacks a strategy and a system for accountability for reaching these goals. The absence of a strategy makes it difficult to determine whether programs are helping achieve system-level outcomes.
Lastly, we found shortcomings in available data that reduce the County’s ability to understand program outcomes. First, county criminal legal agencies do not have an efficient way to share data needed to measure program outcomes. Second, criminal legal agencies collect race data in varying ways, making it difficult to analyze racial disparities in the criminal legal system.
We recommend that the County Executive, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Department of Judicial Administration, Superior Court, and District Court implement a strategy for achieving criminal legal reform goals that include alternative and diversion programs. We also recommend that the County complete criminal legal data integration and define which race data will be necessary to analyze racial disparities in the criminal legal system.
Elise Garvey, Anu Sidhu, and Ben Thompson worked on this audit. If you have any questions or would like more information, please call the King County Auditor's Office at 206-477-1033 or contact us by email at KCAO@kingcounty.gov.