Reducing Youth Arrests Promotes Community Well-Being

Posted September 19, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A young Black man wearing a red and black checkered, long-sleeved shirt, addresses a small group of ethnically diverse peers. All are seated around a table.

A recent pol­i­cy paper from R Street Insti­tute pro­vides youth jus­tice pro­fes­sion­als and deci­sion-mak­ers with a roadmap to min­i­mize young people’s con­tact with the jus­tice sys­tem. Data-Dri­ven Deflec­tion: A Sys­tems Approach to Reduc­ing Juve­nile Arrests sum­ma­rizes research on how pre-arrest diver­sion pro­grams across the coun­try are lever­ag­ing data to reduce youth arrests. The paper fea­tures case stud­ies from Flori­da and Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts, that empha­size the crit­i­cal role data can play in reduc­ing racial dis­par­i­ties and guid­ing implementation.

Diver­sion, also known as deflec­tion,” redi­rects young peo­ple away from the for­mal jus­tice sys­tem at the ear­li­est point of con­tact with law enforce­ment, avoid­ing the adverse con­se­quences asso­ci­at­ed with an arrest. Instead, young peo­ple are held account­able for their behav­ior in oth­er ways, such as com­mu­ni­ty service.

Divert­ing young peo­ple away from court involve­ment with­out arrest leads to much bet­ter out­comes for them and for com­mu­ni­ty well-being, while also sav­ing sig­nif­i­cant amounts of mon­ey,” says Liane Rozzell, senior pol­i­cy asso­ciate at the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, which sup­port­ed the report’s publication.

Civ­il Cita­tions in Florida

Data-Dri­ven Deflec­tion notes robust data col­lec­tion has made Florida’s civ­il cita­tion pro­gram one of the most mature and suc­cess­ful deflec­tion ini­tia­tives in the coun­try. Civ­il cita­tions are akin to traf­fic tick­ets that nev­er become part of a young person’s crim­i­nal record if the youth com­pletes com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice or pays resti­tu­tion. Three years after receiv­ing a cita­tion, youth are 30% less like­ly to recidi­vate com­pared to those who were arrested.

Yet, data also revealed that cita­tion-eli­gi­ble Black youth in Gainesville, Flori­da, were being arrest­ed at a much high­er rate than eli­gi­ble white youth. In response, the chief of police intro­duced an extra lay­er of over­sight to keep more non-white youth out of detention.

A Police-Led Deflec­tion Pro­gram in Cam­bridge, Massachusetts

The pub­li­ca­tion also high­lights the Cam­bridge Safe­ty Net Col­lab­o­ra­tive, a police-led deflec­tion pro­gram that reframes the role of law enforce­ment from antag­o­nists to advo­cates. Safe­ty Net relies on spe­cial­ly trained youth resource offi­cers” to coor­di­nate out­reach, pre­ven­tion and sup­port activ­i­ties. The goal is to address ser­vice frag­men­ta­tion by blend­ing fund­ing streams, case plan­ning process­es and staff exper­tise across the law enforce­ment, child wel­fare, edu­ca­tion and behav­ioral health sys­tems. Since the start of the pro­gram, Safe­ty Net has been able to con­nect youth with men­tal health treat­ment more often than if they were arrested.

While juve­nile recidi­vism and over­all arrests in Cam­bridge have declined at a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant rate com­pared to local and nation­al aver­ages, data analy­sis revealed the pos­i­tive effects began to dimin­ish over a two- and three-year peri­od. Offi­cials were able to make data-dri­ven sug­ges­tions — such as boost­er inter­ven­tions at 18 months post-deflec­tion — to reduce the risk of long-term recidivism.

How Diver­sion Leads to Bet­ter Outcomes

Accord­ing to research, the more con­tact young peo­ple have with the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem, the high­er their risk of neg­a­tive out­comes. Lock­ing up teenagers sev­ers social ties and delays edu­ca­tion­al mile­stones, which only increas­es the chances of fur­ther crim­i­nal behav­ior and sub­se­quent arrests. Once a youth becomes entrenched in the youth jus­tice sys­tem, they are up to three times more like­ly to be con­vict­ed of a crime as an adult.

I like to think of juve­nile deflec­tion like fix­ing a leaky faucet before it breaks, instead of hav­ing to mop up a flood­ed house after­wards,” says Logan Seacrest, the report’s author and a res­i­dent fel­low at the R Street Insti­tute. One of the main ben­e­fits of pre-arrest diver­sion is this focus on ear­ly inter­ven­tion, enabling ben­e­fits to com­pound over time.”

Learn more about expand­ing diversion

Under­stand how to increase suc­cess­ful diver­sion for youth of color

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