The Annie E. Casey Foundation: Helping vulnerable kids & families succeed

Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative

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JDAI Site Updates

Most Minor Delinquents Diverted from the Juvenile Justice System Avoid Reoffending

New research out of Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice (DCJ) shows that most young people who are kept out of the formal juvenile justice system do not reoffend.

Best practices and national research have found that while some young people need to be detained to keep the public and themselves safe, locking up or placing others under supervision could increase the chances that they will reoffend.

A study done by researchers at the University of Montreal found that, compared with other kids with a similar history of delinquency, those who entered the juvenile justice system were nearly seven times more likely to be arrested for crimes as adults. Further, those who ended up being sentenced to juvenile prison were 37 times more likely to be arrested again as adults, compared with similarly young people who were either not caught or not put into the system.

Liang Wu, a senior research analyst with DCJ’s Quality & Evaluation Services, presented the new findings in September at a meeting of the Juvenile Justice Council (JJC), a juvenile justice system body that includes judges, the district attorney, police and other stakeholders who inform how young people will be managed when they are delinquent.

The new research showed that, among 271 young people surveyed, nearly eight out of 10 who received no formal supervision did not reoffend within a year. Of this group, two years out, 75 percent had not been referred by police or the district attorney for a criminal offense. When they do reoffend, most of the time, it was for less serious offenses.

Multnomah County and nearly 100 other communities have invested in scientific tools to help assess the risks and needs of young people, and sort which kids needs to be detained, and who can be supervised in the community, and which kids could be diverted from the system early on.

“This is good news,” said Judge Nan Waller, chief family court judge for Multnomah County. “This data support the public safety value of agreements we have between the courts, the District Attorney and the juvenile department that divert low-level youth.

“By helping those kids who can go back to their homes and families do so, the system can focus its resources on those young people who are more likely to commit a serious offense if we do not formally deal with them.”

This article is reprinted with permission from Multnomah County, Oregon.

For more information contact Jason Ziedenberg at

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