The Difference Between Diversion and Non-Custodial Sentencing

Diversion and non-custodial sentencing are often confused because they are alike in terms of structure.

Both options require that participants are carefully assessed to determine their suitability for the intervention, and both involve participation in therapeutic, developmental interventions.

The same programmes may be used for Diversion as for Non-Custodial Sentences.





Child, adolescent or adult offenders accused of less serious, non-violent crimes. Diversion is based on the principles of restorative justice, which requires that offenders

  • Accept responsibility for the crime committed, make amends for their misdeeds
  • Initiate a healing process for themselves, their families, the victim(s) and the community


Offenders that are convicted of less serious crimes. 

(Schedule 1 and 2 Offences)                                                                                           

Diversion refers to diverting a child, adolescent or adult accused of committing a crime away from formal court procedures towards a more constructive and positive solution.


Non-custodial sentences (NCS) are sentences served outside of prison.

Offenders who are diverted are

  • Not subjected to a trial
  • They are not convicted
  • They do not have a criminal record.

Records of any previous involvement in a diversion option are, however, maintained. Diversion for children is set out in the Child Justice Act (Act 75 of 2008).


This alternative to going to prison may involve (one or more)

  • Paying a fine
  • Community service
  • Participation in a NCS programme

and will result in a criminal record

The aim of diversion is to give offenders accused of less serious, non-violent crimes a second chance to address the root causes of the criminal behaviour through an appropriate diversion programme or intervention.

Diversion for children (under 18) may be offered either with or without conditions and may be considered in all cases, irrespective of the nature of the offence and whether or not previous diversions have been ordered.


Non-custodial programmes address the root causes of crime, change offending behaviour and afford offenders the opportunity to turn their lives around.

The Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 and the Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998 allow a judge to impose alternatives to imprisonment when someone is convicted in court.

Individuals who find themselves in conflict with the law are frequently referred to NICRO for participation in an appropriate diversion programme or intervention by the court.

NICRO also accepts referrals from schools, family members, other organisations, service providers and self-referrals.


The court will

  • Request a NCS suitability assessment from NICRO
  • Refer suitable participants to NICRO for participation in an appropriate intervention



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