Based on a literature review, this study explains the theoretical foundation and features of diversion programs for juveniles in the justice system, followed by results of evaluations of the effectiveness of diversion programs.
"Diversion" is defined in this report as "an attempt to divert, or channel out, youthful offenders from the juvenile justice system" (Bynum and Thompson, 1996). Its primary objective is to redirect youths away from formal processing in the juvenile justice system while still holding them accountable for their actions. Diversion is an effort to address the findings underlying labeling theory, which argues that processing certain youth through the juvenile justice system may do more harm than good in reforming the behavior at issue and preventing its recurrence. Proponents of diversion programs argue that programs that avoid formal case processing are less stigmatizing for the youth involved than those characterized by a formal conviction and sentencing. Evaluations designed to determine the effectiveness of diversion programs have yielded varied results. Compared to early evaluations, more recent ones have shown positive results in reducing participants' recidivism. Although additional research is needed to determine the components of an effective diversion program, the most effective programs are apparently those that provide intensive, comprehensive services over an extended period, coupled with placement in community-based programs. 19 references