Legal Considerations for Successful Youth Diversion Programs
The UCLA School of Law Criminal Justice Program has released a tool kit to help jurisdictions create and implement youth diversion programs. Addressing Legal Issues in Youth Diversion: A Toolkit offers recommendations so communities can proactively — and successfully — address many of the common legal and policy issues they are likely to face when implementing diversion programs.
Youth diversion programs use approaches that steer youth away from the legal system and into community-based, supportive services in lieu of formal court processing.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Liberty Hill Foundation funded the creation of the tool kit. Casey has called for jurisdictions to significantly expand their use of diversion and address typical adolescent misbehavior outside of the court system.
“Diversion from courts to community-based responses provides a much faster, more tailored response to a young person’s actions than the court system can,” says Jaquita Monroe, a senior associate at the Foundation. “Young people can get stuck in the justice system, which creates greater problems for them rather than helping them learn from their mistakes.”
What’s in the Juvenile Diversion Tool Kit
Addressing Legal Issues discusses legal considerations at the creation and implementation stages of juvenile diversion programs, including restorative justice. Its analysis draws from the Criminal Justice Program’s work to implement diversion programs in Los Angeles County. There, eligible youth are diverted to community-based service providers, either before arrest or at the prosecutorial level, with the goal of reducing their involvement in the justice system. The tool kit’s recommendations cover the following areas:
- Net-widening: Limit diversion programs to just those youth who would have otherwise been referred to probation or juvenile court to prevent the inadvertent expansion of the juvenile legal system.
- Statute of limitations: Make policies flexible in timing to give youth the best possible chance of completing diversion based on their individual needs.
- Memoranda of understanding: In a contractual agreement, lay out the responsibilities of each partner in a diversion program.
- Consent: Consider a policy that allows a youth to select a supportive adult — they don’t have to be a parent or guardian — to authorize the youth’s enrollment in a diversion program.
- Confidentiality: Devise protocols that adhere to state law and fully protect young people’s privacy.
- Mandated reporting: Assess the legal duty to report alleged cases of child abuse or neglect carefully, including whether implicit or explicit biases may be present in a service provider’s decision to report.
- Multiple charges: Advocate for policies that allow youth who have been arrested multiple times to still have access to diversion programs.
The tool kit also has a section on legal considerations for youth and their families. A juvenile arrest can raise numerous questions about consequences related to a diversion referral, such as record sealing or civil legal issues, regardless of whether the youth is processed through the juvenile legal system. It is imperative that diversion programs have resources to help youth navigate these entanglements. The author recommends that jurisdictions establish a partnership with a legal services provider for that purpose.
“By using this tool kit, jurisdictions can benefit from the lessons we learned through collaborative work in Los Angeles County with the agency responsible for advancing youth development, young people, community members and other stakeholders,” said Leah Gasser-Ordaz, the report’s author and youth justice policy lead at the UCLA School of Law Criminal Justice Program.
Learn more about how Los Angeles County expanded youth diversion