Many children are inappropriately referred to the juvenile justice system. Juvenile Law Center works to limit unnecessary referrals and advocates for diverting certain youth to systems or treatment that can more appropriately address their needs. With thoughtful screening and programming, diversion can promote successful outcomes and better futures for youth while still promoting community safety.
Youth who are adjudicated delinquent face serious long-term consequences that diversion can prevent. For example, a juvenile court record can limit education and job options, including military service, and lead to eviction from public housing, suspension of a driver’s license, or even deportation. Furthermore, young people sent to juvenile detention and correctional facilities are at risk of potential assault or abuse and may be more vulnerable to suicide.1 Studies have shown that sending juveniles to out-of-home placement (detention facilities) may increase the chance that they will reoffend.2
Historically, Juvenile Law Center has pursued several advocacy strategies to promote diversion. Most recently, in our roles as lead entity in the MacArthur Foundation Models for Change (MfC) Initiative in Pennsylvania and state team leader to the (MfC) Mental Health-Juvenile Justice Action Network, we started a statewide diversion workgroup. Participants include juvenile court judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and probation officers, as well as leaders in the education, mental health, and substance abuse fields. Collectively, we endorse meaningful diversion opportunities at key decision points in the justice system. With support from the MacArthur Foundation, the workgroup also launched pilot projects to target three primary crossroads where a child’s future hangs in the balance: when he comes into contact with police, gets into trouble at school, or first enters the courthouse door.
In 2010, the Pennsylvania diversion workgroup became a subcommittee of Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Committee (JJDPC). Juvenile Law Center staff currently co-chairs the diversion subcommittee. Following the subcommittee’s recommendation, the JJDPC funds an additional 13 innovative projects, which consider various ways to redirect youth away from the justice system when appropriate.
Juvenile Law Center’s extensive experience promoting diversion in Pennsylvania enables us to provide technical assistance to other jurisdictions. Moreover, through publications, presentations, and direct advocacy, we endorse laws and policies at both the federal and state levels to counteract irrational zero-tolerance policies, particularly those that send youth into the justice system for behaviors previously addressed by school administrators.
1National Commission on Correctional Health Care. “Prevention of Juvenile Suicide in Correctional Settings.” Position Statements. National Commission on Correctional Health Care, 14 October 2007. May 2011.
2Holman, Barry and Ziedenberg, Jason ,.Dangers of Detention: The Impact of Incarcerating Youth in Detention and Other Secure Facilities Washington, D.C.: Justice Policy Institute, 2006. 3-4. Web.
Last updated December 2011
There is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies make schools safer or improve student behavior.
ACLU, "School to Prison Pipeline: Talking Points," www.aclu.org, 6 June 2008. Web. June 2011.
An adjudication of delinquency may limit opportunities to seek higher education, obtain employment, or enlist in the military.
Pennsylvania Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network, "The Pennsylvania Juvenile Collateral Consequences Checklist," May 2010.
In Pennsylvania juvenile records are open to the public if a 12- or 13-year-old child is adjudicated delinquent of certain very serious offenses, or if a child is older than 13 and adjudicated delinquent of ANY felony offense.
"The Pennsylvania Juvenile Collateral Consequences Checklist." Pennsylvania: Models for Change Systems Reform in Juvenile Justice, May 2010.
Research suggests that the overuse of suspensions and expulsions, as in the case of a zero-tolerance policy, may increase the likelihood of later criminal misconduct.
ACLU, "School to Prison Pipeline: Talking Points." www.aclu.org, 6 June 2008. Web. June 2011.
Studies have found that delinquent youth are more than seven times as likely to show a history of adult unemployment and welfare dependence than non-delinquent youth.
Sampson, Robert J., Laub, John H. "Crime and Deviance Over the Life Course: The Salience of Adult Social Bonds." American Sociological Review, 55.5 (1990): 609-627.