Diversion Programs: Identifying Specific Jurisdictional Issues

What Sets You Apart?

  • Overview

    StartAs you begin to research juvenile diversion programs, keep in mind that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. You will need to understand what makes your situation unique and how these factors will affect the success of a juvenile diversion program in your community. For example, you need to be familiar with laws and ordinances that may impact diversion efforts and the specific processes of the juvenile justice system in your jurisdiction. Other specific characteristics, such as community infrastructure, should also be considered before diversion programs are implemented.

    This section discusses community characteristics that should be identified so that you choose the type of diversion program that best fits your community’s needs.

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  • Steps to Take: Lessons Learned from the Research

    Steps to Take:  Lessons Learned from the Research

    Take into account the context and setting of the problem.

    • Research and understand applicable state and local laws that guide which youths are eligible for diversion.
    • Make sure your diversion efforts align with the processing of juveniles in your jurisdiction.
    • Address the potential barriers to program completion due to community infrastructure, especially in rural areas.
    • What is Currently Happening in Your Jurisdiction?

      Most states have guidelines on diverting youths from formal system processing. It is important to be familiar with the guidelines and legal restrictions governing diversion decisions that may be present in your jurisdiction. For instance, you may wish to implement a diversion program for a specific population (such as juveniles who commit serious/violent offenses), but there may be legislation in place that does not allow for that group of juveniles to be diverted.

      • Make sure that the program you are planning operates within state and local laws that guide which youths are eligible for diversion. State and local laws vary in terms of who can be diverted. While some states only allow juveniles who commit first offenses to be diverted, others allow greater discretion on a case-by-case basis. For example, the only eligibility requirements required by law in Indiana are that the child and his or her parent or guardian consent to the program of informal adjustment (i.e., diversion). An example of a program that falls within these criteria is Indianapolis Family Group Conferencing, which requires the attendance of the juvenile and his or her family, the victim, and supportive members of the community. Another example is that of Michigan, where the law only requires that the courts consider the nature of the alleged offense and the problem that led up to it; the minor’s age, character, and conduct in school; family situation; and any prior diversion decisions. The law does not specifically include or exclude youths who commit certain types of offenses. The referral and screening process of the Adolescent Diversion Project (ADP) in Michigan is consistent with these criteria. Following intake, youths who were considered appropriate for ADP by court and project staff are given the option to participate. ADP accepts any youth whom the court would have otherwise taken action on (formally or informally). This results is the inclusion of youths who have committed a variety of offenses, as allowed by Michigan law.

        The two examples illustrate how programs were designed and implemented within the boundaries of state-level legislation on juvenile diversion. In addition, there are some areas that may not be outlined in legislation but that still must be addressed, such as confidentiality and the restrictions on the release of information about youths to treatment providers. These areas should be carefully examined and may require the assistance of counsel for the jurisdiction.

      Take a Look
      The Juvenile Diversion Guidebook, produced by the Models for Change initiative, includes a review of 50 state statutes related to juvenile diversion, including descriptions of eligibility criteria for youth to be diverted. This resource can help to identify what legislation and polices are already in place in your state that could impact the goals of your diversion program.

      • Make sure your diversion efforts align with the processing of juveniles in your jurisdiction. The way in which youths are processed through the juvenile justice system varies across states, which can impact both the implementation and success of a diversion program. As can be seen in the diagram below of the juvenile justice process (Figure 1), there are a number of decision points where youth may be diverted from the system prior to adjudication. Your state may only allow for diversion at arrest by law enforcement or at intake. Alternatively, diversion may take place at multiple contact points in your state. The case flow diagram highlights the importance of familiarizing yourself with the juvenile justice system in your jurisdiction to ensure that your state processes coincide with the diversion program you wish to implement.

        Figure 1 Figure 1

      • Address the potential barriers to program completion due to community infrastructure, especially in rural areas. The characteristics of rural communities, such as spatial isolation, limited treatment facilities and service providers, limited financial resources, and transportation obstacles, undermine the efficacy of diversion programs. For example, substance use among youths in rural communities is a significant problem, with rural youths using substances at higher rates and younger ages than urban youths. However, access to treatment is limited, as fewer than 11 percent of physicians’ in the country work in rural communities. Additionally, less than 11 percent of rural hospitals offer substance use treatment. As a result of the limited treatment in rural communities, rural youths have to travel approximately 13 miles to treatment providers, whereas urban youths typically travel 1.7 miles.

        Although transportation may be offered in some diversion programs, this is not a universal program component. In these instances, the lack of transportation can become a barrier to service completion, as rural youths are not always able to make repeated trips to service providers. This is typically an issue in rural areas, given that access to public transportation in urban areas can assist in providing youths with a means to access treatment. Therefore, if a rural community wishes to implement a diversion program, it is important to consider the closest treatment provider. If access to a treatment provider requires travel by car, the diversion program needs to ensure that transportation is included in the budget, otherwise the success of the diversion program may be jeopardized. (For more information on budgeting for your diversion program, see Procure Funding).

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