When your college-aged child is arrested on alcohol charges, it can make for scary times. You had dreams about your child’s future, but a conviction could change the landscape.

So, you are researching possible defense options. You want your son or daughter to accept responsibility for what he or she may have done, but you also believe that a mistake should not mar your child’s record for life. Could a diversionary program be your answer?

In some areas, yes, it might be. As the Penn State Student Services website explains, “The courts will sometimes offer a diversionary program for a first offense. For summary offenses, the availability and conditions of a diversionary program is up to the local Magisterial District Judge in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. There are three different Magisterial District Judges who serve various parts of campus and the immediately surrounding community, and all have slightly different programs and qualification requirements.”

Make sure you understand the plea being entered

In some cases, your child may have to plead guilty or “no contest” to qualify for a diversionary program. However, the court might wait to formally enter the plea until your student finishes the program. With successful completion, the guilty plea is never entered, so there is no criminal record. Naturally, this option can be risky, especially if your child is unable to complete the program or gets arrested again before doing so.

In other situations, a guilty plea might be formally entered no matter what, with the diversionary program substituting for jail time and providing a better opportunity for rehabilitation.

How the programs work

Diversionary programs are funded by fines and fees, and sometimes, you/your child may have to pay some of your own money directly to the program, which can take as long as a year and involve counseling and behavior modification over punishment. The cleaner your child’s record and the milder the alcohol offense, the better the chances are of qualifying for such a program.