King County audit finds difficulty tracking effectiveness of adult diversion programs

The auditors say the county lacks the strategy, coordination and data to measure cost-effectiveness.

An audit released on Dec. 13 found that King County adult diversion programs – meant to route adults out of jail or prison – fail to coordinate adequately and don’t collect key information to measure programs’ and individuals’ overall success.

The report, prepared by the King County Auditor’s Office, looked at 12 King County programs that divert adults from, or provide them an alternative to, being in jail or prison, some including services that address underlying causes of criminal behavior. Because of the varied situations of each program, auditors evaluated whether the programs are set up to assess for effectiveness rather than assessing the outcomes of these programs.

“The County does not have enough information on adult diversion programs to be sure it is spending funds in the most effective way,” said Kymber Waltmunson, King County Auditor. “Implementing our recommendations would improve transparency, accountability, and help drive achievement of the County’s legal system reform goals.”

Auditors sought to learn whether each program established goals and collected data for monitoring success, whether programs are being monitored and evaluated, and what could a program or the county do to improve this process.

The report found that, broadly, county decision makers lack key information about the effectiveness of some adult diversion programs. Auditors found several causes for this, such as a lack of an overall county strategy to achieve outcomes with these programs. According to auditors, county leaders have stated various criminal legal system reform goals, like keeping the average daily population in the jail low.

“But no plan that really articulates these goals and how alternative and diversion programs connect to those goals,” the King County Auditor’s Office said in a statement. “This reduces the ability of the county to define success when it comes to these types of programs, which makes it hard to ensure monitoring and evaluation is useful. This also means the county cannot identify gaps in needs with the current programs, making it difficult to answer questions like: Does the county have the right programs? Do the programs have enough capacity for what the county needs?”

Also, auditor’s found some lack of coordination among important actors across programs.

“This is important because most programs have key decision-making that happens by different actors across the county, especially across branches. For example, while one agency is responsible for providing services, a different agency makes decisions about who can participate in the program,” said the King County Auditor’s Office. “There is an effort through the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Table to do this, but the judicial branch is not a part of that group. Efforts to assess programs and make improvements could be enhanced through better coordination.”

Auditors also pointed to data limitations that reduce county agencies’ abilities to effectively monitor and assess programs.

“County agencies do not have an efficient way to share criminal legal data needed to measure program outcomes, meaning outcomes are not always being measured. Additionally, these agencies collect race data in varying ways, making it difficult to analyze racial disparities in the criminal legal system,” said the King County Auditor’s Office. “This is an issue as one of the county’s goals is to eliminate or reduce racial disparities, but the county has not articulated which race data to use and whether it is reliable or complete for purposes of that goal. Right now, King County Information Technology has started a project to integrate criminal legal data [in] the county. Completing this effort will help ensure alternative and diversion programs to have the data needed to assess effectiveness.”

The audit made recommendations overall, with key recommendations including:

– Having the Executive, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Superior Court, and District Court develop and implement a strategy for achieving criminal legal reform goals that clearly articulates how incarceration alternative and diversion programs contribute to those goals

– Having the Executive, PAO, Superior Court, and District all participate in county criminal legal coordination efforts

– Having the Executive ensure its technology project to integrate criminal legal data is prioritized and that county agencies define how racial data will be collected and used