Report: Expand Law Enforcement’s Role in Pre-Arrest Diversion of Youth

Posted October 18, 2022
Two middle-school-age boys wearing backpacks — one white and one Black — walk together on a school campus.

Divert­ing youth ear­ly in the juve­nile jus­tice process, such as at the ini­tial point of con­tact with law enforce­ment, is bet­ter at reduc­ing recidi­vism than for­mal court pro­cess­ing, accord­ing to new research by R Street Insti­tute. The Insti­tute assessed juve­nile arrest rates and diver­sion efforts in all 50 states and devel­oped a state-by-state overview and comparison.

The research, fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, looked at pre-arrest diver­sion led by law enforce­ment, which is also known as deflec­tion. It is one of many diver­sion mod­els that hold youth account­able for their behav­ior out­side of the tra­di­tion­al jus­tice system.

The researchers found that youth who were divert­ed by police with a warn­ing, civ­il cita­tion or refer­ral to a com­mu­ni­ty-based option, such as a restora­tive jus­tice pro­gram, were more like­ly to be suc­cess­ful in com­plet­ing school and enrolling in col­lege than youth who were arrest­ed. Fur­ther, youth avoid­ed the trau­ma and stig­ma of juve­nile pro­ceed­ings and the bur­den of delin­quen­cy records that impede future edu­ca­tion­al and employ­ment opportunities.

Despite these ben­e­fits, deflec­tion remains under­used, accord­ing to R Street Insti­tute, as evi­denced by the fact that most of the youth referred to juve­nile court and con­fine­ment con­tin­ue to be those who have com­mit­ted minor offenses.

The state-by-state overview of deflec­tion efforts is a start­ing point for col­lect­ing and shar­ing reli­able and accu­rate data on juve­nile diver­sion pro­grams led by law enforce­ment. Its audi­ence is police, pros­e­cu­tors, munic­i­pal and coun­ty man­agers and elect­ed offi­cials, advo­cates and oth­ers work­ing in juve­nile and crim­i­nal jus­tice. Data includes the exis­tence of state statutes or state sup­port for deflec­tion and the pres­ence of for­mal deflec­tion pro­grams in the largest city of each state.

Over the past few decades, juve­nile crime, arrests and con­fine­ment have begun to decline — a trend that direct­ly cor­re­lates with states and local­i­ties mov­ing away from over­ly puni­tive, tough on crime” poli­cies and toward diver­sion ini­tia­tives aimed at lim­it­ing young people’s inter­ac­tion with the jus­tice sys­tem,” wrote Jil­lian Snider, R Street Institute’s pol­i­cy direc­tor for Crim­i­nal Jus­tice and Civ­il Lib­er­ties, in the overview to the 50-state scan of pre-arrest diver­sion led by law enforcement.

R Street Insti­tute also released How Juve­nile Jus­tice Deflec­tion” Pro­grams Reduce Crime and Save Mon­ey to explore the val­ue of deflec­tion pro­grams; review the pub­lic safe­ty and fis­cal ben­e­fits they offer; and high­light a case from one juris­dic­tion — Duval Coun­ty, Flori­da — that under­scores the ben­e­fits of the approach. To con­tin­ue build­ing buy-in for this promis­ing approach, R Street then pre­sent­ed a webi­nar on deflec­tion, fea­tur­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from two juris­dic­tions with law enforce­ment-led deflec­tion pro­grams for youth as well as Jaqui­ta Mon­roe, a senior asso­ciate at the Foundation.

Young peo­ple need ways to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for their mis­takes and learn from them with­out get­ting derailed from their suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion to adult­hood,” says Mon­roe about pre-arrest diver­sion. We hope many more juris­dic­tions put deflec­tion pro­grams in place to pro­vide that oppor­tu­ni­ty for youth.”

Read More About Expand­ing the Use of Diversion

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