Project: Reducing flows into the criminal justice system

The use of out-of-court disposals and diversion at the ‘front end’

Wednesday 14 July 2021

LONG READ: Out of court - but not out of mind: why police must be more transparent about the sanctions they use
THAMES VALLEY VRU: See details on Crest's partnership with the Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit

Following our research into Covid-19 and the criminal justice system, Crest is undertaking further research to understand how out-of-court disposals can be used to reduce pressure on the courts - and deal more effectively with offenders.


A system under pressure

A core finding from our research on the effect of Covid-19 on the criminal justice system is that it is in desperate need of better ways to manage offenders at the ‘front end’ of the system - reducing the flow of people into the courts. Our modelling, a ‘stock and flow’ model that looks at the criminal justice system as a whole, suggested that without any further action, the court backlog – defined as all cases waiting to be processed in the courts – is projected to rapidly increase and reach an unmanageable level by 2024.

This research project, funded by the Hadley Trust, is investigating the use of out-of-court disposals, including deferred prosecution and diversion schemes, to see how pressure can be lifted from the system and reoffending rates reduced.

What are we looking at?

Where are we now?

The first phase of the project has brought together data, interviews with expert stakeholders and a review of literature to create a picture of the current landscape at the front end of the criminal justice system. A key part of this phase has been finding out how police forces use out-of-court disposals and provide information about them to the public.

What is best practice locally?

The second phase of the project consists of a ‘deep dive’ into Thames Valley Police. Crest will hold interviews and focus groups with police officers and staff to gauge their views about out-of-court disposals and programmes to divert people away from the criminal justice system. In particular, we'll look closely at drug diversion schemes for young people and adults pioneered by Thames Valley Violence Reduction Unit. We want to understand the challenges of out-of-court disposals from those at the sharp end, establish where best practice lies and explore opportunities for improving their use, in order to reduce reoffending and the flow of people into the criminal justice system.

Do the public support increased use of out-of-court disposals?

The third, and final, phase of the project will look at public perceptions of out-of-court disposals and diversion - namely, are members of the public prepared to accept their expansion and what limits would they place on their use?

How can you get involved?

We would appreciate hearing from interested stakeholders about the future of out-of-court disposals and diversion, and what this means for the wider criminal justice system.

If you would like to share your experience or insight with us, please contact Danny Shaw,, or James Stott,

To keep up to date with all the latest on the project, sign up to Crest's newsletter.


The UK's only consultancy dedicated to crime and justice.