Viet Nguyen

When a person with no criminal history is charged with a non-violent, misdemeanor offense, the prosecutor has several choices, including getting the case dismissed or pursuing a conviction.

Diversion programs offer a middle ground, an alternative that keeps the person from formally entering the criminal justice system. Philadelphia’s Accelerated Misdemeanor Program (AMP), for example, requires a defendant to do 12-18 hours of community service and to pay court fees within 10 weeks of accepting the terms. Those who complete the program have their case records expunged.

However, such programs can expand the number of people interacting with the criminal justice system, drawing in cases that would previously have been dismissed. Penn criminology doctoral student Viet Nguyen sought to study the impact of diversion programs and determine whether they actually cause a net-widening effect or, in fact, do the opposite.