Juvenile diversion: Always an option for minor offenses

Juvenile Courts have been in existence for over one hundred years in the United States. Unlike adult criminal courts, juvenile criminal courts are rehabilitative in nature and practice. The goal in a juvenile court system is to reduce the risks of youth offenders from being repeat offenders. As a result, diversion programs were developed to help courts in this mission.

Juvenile diversion programs are those programs which attempt to help teen offenders, who have law enforcement contacts. The programs are designed to avoid formal court involvement or criminal charges. The underlying philosophy of diversion programs is that high risk behavior can be discouraged and corrected so that a child can be a productive citizen. So, diversion programs are offered to youth committing minor offenses, which may include shoplifting, vandalism, petit larceny, trespassing, curfew violations, and alcohol offenses.    

By “diverting” these matters, these young offenders can be rehabilitated and not affected by the lasting and potentially harmful effect of court involvement. If cases are diverted, the more serious and dangerous offenders are handled by the courts and law enforcement. 

Various types of diversion programs

Most juvenile diversion programs are coordinated through court services units and involve a number of different services. And, many programs vary from state to state. The programs in Massachusetts may be slightly different from those in Texas. The diversion program will depend on the juveniles needs in the home, community and school. These diversion programs can include:

  • Outreach/electronic monitoring (GPS)
  • House rules and curfews
  • Job readiness classes
  • Restitution
  • Crime prevention classes (ie. shoplifter prevention)
  • Psychiatric/mental health services
  • Counseling (individual/family)
  • Community Service
  • Teen/Peer Court participation

Participating in a diversion program

Depending on the juvenile diversion program, a youth and his or her family may have to work with the school or a representative from law enforcement or area court. If the program is juvenile court system based, the teen is referred to diversion, and must receive assignments or service requirements from a case manager or probation specialist. The youth is asked to participate in services and then monitored for progress. If progress is satisfactory, the youth is released from any future requirements by the case manager or probation specialist. If progress is not satisfactory, a juvenile offender could face criminal charges and court ordered sanctions, which could include incarceration/detention.

If the teen is involved in a school-based diversion program, such as a  peer or teen court, the youth presents a case and their schoolmates determine the course of action.  Compliance is mandatory. If non-compliant, a juvenile could face legal action and court involvement.

According to the federal government, most juvenile diversion programs, 46 percent, are managed by justice system based programs; however, the remaining 54 percent are managed in area schools and community-based organizations.

Every state in the Union has some form of diversion program and the federal government supports effective and responsive programs designed to help youth. As the legal system remains bogged down with serious offenses, the juvenile diversion programs serves as way of helping youth and their families have better lives outside of the court system.