What does effective diversion look like? Building a lived experience-led framework

At Revolving Doors, we are driven by the belief that building a smart, effective criminal justice system is only possible when individuals with lived experience, service providers, and policymakers collaborate to create innovative solutions. It is in this spirit, and following the success of our London forum, that we held the second event in our Diversion and Prevention series in Birmingham.

People with lived experience came together with service providers and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office to explore diversion away from the criminal justice system as a cost-effective alternative to expensive, fruitless criminalisation, such as short custodial sentences. We focused on what a ‘good’ diversion service looks like for those who have been through, or are at risk of going through, the cycle of crisis and crime. By this we mean repeat, low-level crime driven by unmet health and social needs, such as poverty, mental ill health or problems with drugs and alcohol.

Our members passionately emphasised the untapped potential of diversion in addressing the root causes of crime, but also in saving valuable resources and improving the police’s relationships with the community. By intervening at the very first point of contact, diversion offers individuals a chance to break the cycle and prevent further crime. As one exchange powerfully demonstrates:

“So why is diversion better than multiple short sentences?

Well, it stops crime, doesn’t it?”

– Q&A between attendee and person with lived experience

“Short sentences are not fixing our problems. Being sent away to prison for three months just makes you lose your home, your job, maybe the relationship you’re in, but you don’t get any of the help you need within that time frame.”

Lived experience member

However, our lived experience members told us that diversion isn’t consistently offered for those stuck in the revolving door when they come into contact with the police.

“Diversion is never the first option – but it should be. We need cultural change.”


“Diversion needs to happen at first contact with the police because that is when trust starts being built. Instead, I was labelled a criminal… It took ten years of me being exploited to get a diversion.”

Lived experience member

Our members also emphasised how Black people and others who are racially minoritised don’t get the same access to diversion services.

“I got a diversion, but my friends didn’t…There are lots of reasons why, which, I think, includes their skin colour.”

Lived experience member

Effective diversion requires thoughtful consideration of where individuals are redirected. For our members, this means support with training and employment, a positive relationship with your support worker or probation officer, debt and benefits advice and mental health support. Crucially, people need to feel like they are understood as a person, which is why such emphasis was put on ensuring people with lived experience as peer mentors are part of that support package. In other words, to reduce repeat crime and create a smart, effective justice system, what is needed is a comprehensive, wrap-around support service. Without these components, diversion loses its impact, leaving individuals without the tools to break the cycle of crime.

“There is only so long you can live on the absolute minimum. I was getting every job I was applying to, but when the DBS was coming back with crimes listed, that was the end of it and there weren’t any other options… To make diversion sustainable, it needs to have all systems work together, including with work and with benefits.”

Lived experience member

“We want to move away from that carousel of signposting where people are sent to multiple services, and instead get to a place where they actually get the support they need more easily. What we want is for the voices of those with lived experience to influence that change.”


Our members particularly emphasised the need to tailor diversion pathways to those who often face distinct challenges and disproportionate outcomes in the criminal justice system, including those with a neurodivergent condition, women and young people.

 “As women, we have different needs. What drives us into the revolving door of crisis and crime is often linked to domestic abuse, mental ill health and exploitation. It is crucial that we are dealt with as victims and not criminals when we are in those situations.”

Lived experience member

Attendees with lived experience also said that the most effective diversion scheme needs to be accessible at multiple stages, whether it’s before or after arrest, extending to those at risk of entering the cycle of crisis and crime.  It’s about ensuring that individuals have every opportunity to access the support they need, when they need it most, which will ultimately lead to lower crime levels. So, what next? The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner is committed to reflecting on the valuable insights gained from those who know best and building them into the region’s diversion plan. As ever, Revolving Doors and the people with lived experience we work with are ready and willing to support.

We were so inspired by the energy and ambition in the room, that we will be publishing our own best practice principles for effective diversion soon. Watch this space! Disappointed you missed it? Not to worry – you can still sign up for our June event in Manchester.

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Revolving Doors holds regular lived experience forums, where we invite those working on issues related to the revolving door of crisis and crime to consult with people with lived experience.

If you’d like to discuss other opportunities for getting involved, as someone with lived experience or as someone who works with people with lived experience, please email Natalia at