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Diversion Programs for Juveniles and First-Time Adult Offenders


Many teenagers in today’s generation participate in risky activities, make poor decisions, and are affected by peer pressure. Thus, several young people can engage in various immoral behaviors such as robbery and drug abuse. Although police arrests are frequent among adolescents, most of them are not arrested after committing a crime. Hence, only a tiny percentage of these juveniles are convicted for second misconduct or become repeat lawbreakers. It is clear that for the vast majority of these young people who have been detained, their principal felony is not indicative of a potential misbehavior epidemic. Based on these facts, there is an excellent case to be practiced for providing a way for juveniles to circumvent formal processing into the criminal justice system in some circumstances.

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Traditionally, law enforcement agencies were highly reliant on the community to educate young people about moral behaviors. Several tactics have been used to solve the issue of youth crime today. Juveniles are processed into a structured court system in some nations, and punishments range from rehabilitative to punitive. Most jurisdictions have discovered that low-level crimes, mainly those done by first-time offenders, do not always result in the filing of a criminal case. In these states, perpetrators with minimal criminal histories cannot benefit from going through the normal court process of plea and sentencing or pleading not guilty. This article discusses the use of diversion programs for juveniles and first-time offenders in changing the justice system.


The introduction of the juvenile court system itself paved the way for diverting arrested youths from standard processing. Juvenile justice was established in the late 1800s to provide a rehabilitation-based solution to youths’ criminal behavior (Berman, 2021). The scheme overturned the punitive orders that the child had received in regular criminal court. This program was designed to keep teens from illegal processing because it was thought to be in their best interests and society. Furthermore, juvenile courts were to issue judgments that were more focused on the potential for special rehabilitation programs and educational guidance to help young people change their lives.

The juvenile court had failed to live up to its initial promise, according to Supreme Court decisions from the 1960s (Berman, 2021). As a result, youth were diverted from punitive criminal justice sentences to corrective juvenile justice dispositions, resulting in no diversion. Criminologists were questioning the effectiveness of juvenile sanctions and programming at the time. They claimed that the juvenile justice system brought more youths under state control rather than protecting them from legal penalties.

Diversion from criminal justice became a huge subject of discussion in the 1970s and 1980s. The main concern was whether it was safer for youth and the community to escape structured juvenile court processing for alleged offenses wherever possible and secure. The President’s Commission of 1967 sparked the start of diversion reform of law enforcement and justice administration (Berman, 2021).

According to the Commission, alternatives to the conventional criminal justice system were required to handle troubled youth. They recommended that the court’s authority over underage offenders be limited to cases involving a clear and present danger, with the remainder of children being referred to community-based services. Following the Commission’s findings, there was a flood of diversionary approaches to dealing with juvenile offenses in the years that followed.

The developmental perspective of juvenile justice shows that most teens age out of criminal activity as short-lived and regular youth. Adolescence is a transitional phase between teenage years and adulthood marked by curiosity and risk-taking activities, the formation of personal identity, and exposure to peers and other social factors (Alarid, 2016). This cycle of experimentation for many young offenders ends when their personalities are formed, and only a small number of youths continue to engage in criminal activity into adulthood. As a result, minimum intervention diversion programs are vital since they help the criminal justice system enable young people to grow and develop into adulthood.

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How Diversion Works

Diversion is a state-sponsored program that was developed and signed into law by the legislature. The program identifies crimes and characteristics of offenders that will allow the defendant to be eligible for diversion. Early in the proceedings, the defendant is diverted to counseling in some diversion systems. The defendant does not have to enter a guilty or no-contest plea in a particular manner to receive diversion (Jordan & Daday, 2015). Some also require the defendant to formally admit guilt while suspending punishment while allowing the offender to complete diversion. The appeal has not been officially filed with the juvenile court system, and it will be deleted until the program is finished.

The defendants must also pay a diversion program fee to the court. These expenses may also exceed a fine. Furthermore, these services will last anywhere from six to twelve months or longer. Counseling, behavior change, and therapy are prioritized over disciplinary steps. Offenders must also attend courses and job training, engage in group counseling, restitution to any victims, pay fines, and complete community service (Choate & Manton, 2014). When the curriculum is completed, the case is brought back to court for the final time and dismissed. If the issue is denied, the criminal record usually is not sealed and is often lost.

Suppose the applicant does not complete the diversion program or is disqualified from the program for failing to comply with the conditions, the case will be returned to court. If the defendant previously entered a guilty or no-contest plea, the judge could impose a sentence. If the defendant fails because the probation program does not require her to enter a request beforehand, she will be required to do so, and the case will continue as planned.

Post-booking Diversion Programs

These services are intended to recognize people in court or prison who may be eligible for diversion after their arrest and booking. There are three forms of post-booking diversion, which include jail-based recreation, mental health courts, and court-based diversion (Stalker, 2019). The first step in a jail-based program is to locate a detainee who may be suffering from a mental disorder. Pretrial care personnel or trained jail workers are involved in this practice to ensure that they help in identifying the mentally ill inmates. After a diagnosis is exercised and an individual has mental conditions, the judges can approve the convict to be taken to community-based mental health services. Jail contacts perform cognitive wellbeing assessments of inmates and devise treatment plans for them in conjunction with jail mental health staff and community-based mental health service providers.

Court-based post-booking diversion services have also been exercised, whereby they involve hiring mental health professionals to work in the courtroom. These employees analyze the prosecution databases for established clients and request extra recommendations from court personnel. The clinician works with the judge to ensure the suspect’s release on parole, contingent on their participation in a mental health treatment program.

Standard cases are often held open for a limited period to ensure that the client is linked and receiving the requisite rehabilitation treatment before charges are dismissed. Moreover, despite receiving a custodial sentence, the defendant can be found guilty and sentenced to probation with special treatment requirements. This program takes place in a variety of courts in front of a variety of judges. That is, there is no separate docket for those who are mentally ill.

The mental health court system, on the other hand, is a series of diversion programs in which the diversion process takes place in a single dedicated court. In addition, judges, prosecutors, attorneys, and other court personnel may have received advanced training in dealing with people who have severe mental illnesses. Community-based mental health care and treatment adherence monitoring are needed in these courts. Furthermore, the possibility of having charges dropped or avoiding detention is seen as an opportunity to enroll in care. Enrollment in a mental health program is, however, entirely optional in the courts.

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Limitations of Diversion

Diversion has many drawbacks, including a potential incompatibility with due process and constitutional justice values. Recreation demonstrates shows that young people should face jail terms and be kept accountable for violations of laws to guarantee that they do not engage in similar acts in the future (Vail & Nest, 1992). Before the introduction of the diversion programs, minor offenders may have been excluded from being negatively impacted by trials and the system. According to Waung and Sheeran (2015), many of the youths chosen for diversion services would not re-offend, adding to the belief that the program was successful.

However, the youths’ behavior may have changed regardless of the intervention. According to these experts, Diversion services expand social control to teenagers who would otherwise be released into society, do not avoid stigmatization, and may even increase recidivism.

Another drawback to diversional projects is that they are unfair due to inconsistencies in juvenile decision-making patterns. Several studies, for example, indicate that police officers’ prejudices, such as economic status and a youth’s race, can affect their decisions (Leone & Wruble, 2015).

Lastly, an unfair portrayal of minorities in the criminal justice system can also be experienced; no systematic method is used to determine individuals fit for diversion. In addition, some court officials believe that police discretion often contributes to irregularities in the diversion process, such as the fact that black juveniles are subjected to further court processing. Diversion services are incompatible with the principles of fairness and justice, as well as the human rights of youth and their families, due to their arbitrary existence.


Although there is widespread support for prison diversion services, few outcome studies have found conflicting results in terms of their efficacy. According to one of the findings, recidivism is a major outcome reported by the researchers; however, diversion services had no effect on reoffending and were similar to conventional juvenile justice screening. (Kretschmar et al., 2018). In addition, there was no gap in recidivism between diverted and non-diverted youths, nor was there a rise in re-offense. Recent reports on diversion services, on the other hand, have typically shown more optimistic results.

When opposed to conventional justice processing, diversion services were found to minimize potential offending (Stalker, 2019). Correspondingly, the most successful programs incorporate intensive, robust services with long-term participation in community-based programs. Research has shown that initiatives that provide resources are most successful when tailored to the youth’s degree of risk of offending.

Despite the evidence of positive results, diversion programs have grown and evolved significantly. Because of these developments, evaluating the evidence or effect of diversion on juvenile crime has become more complex. Given the numerous intended results of diversion programs, determining their effectiveness remains a significant challenge (Kretschmar et al., 2018). Furthermore, several studies suffer from methodological problems related to a lack of adequate reference groups. It is difficult to determine the exact effect of diversion services without comparison or control samples to create a reference population for intervention.

Current Diversion Programs

Special Needs Diversionary Program (SNDP)

SNDP was introduced to ensure that youth with mental conditions can recover. Its mission is to provide mental health services alongside specialized probation monitoring to youth between the age of 10 to 17 who have low levels of behavior and mental health problems to rehabilitate and prevent them from delinquency in the future (Berman, 2021). The curriculum takes a hands-on approach to case management. Moreover, individual and group therapy and parental education are some of the aspects involved in the wraparound model.

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Multisystemic Therapy for Youth with Problem Sexual Behaviors (MST-PSB)

Many young people are engaging in various harmful behaviors such as sexual assault. Therefore, MST-PSB is a recovery program that was introduced to ensure young people recover from such acts. It offers counseling in the natural setting of the adolescent; that is where the adolescent lives. MST–PSB is a recovery program that seeks to reduce problem sexual behavior, antisocial behavior, and placements outside of the family (Berman, 2021).

The curriculum focuses on the factors that contribute to problematic adolescent sexual activity, primarily by discussing a young person’s socialization and interpersonal interactions. Members of the system’s personnel interact directly or indirectly with the youth’s family and community, including parents, teachers, and probation officers. One aim is to provide parents with the knowledge and support they need to raise their children (Schlesinger, 2018). This service is available as part of a pretrial diversion program or a post-conviction probation program.

In conclusion, today’s youths are engaging in various risky criminal activities. However, only a small number of juveniles are convicted after their first arrest. Furthermore, it is clear that for the vast majority of these young people who have been arrested, their first felony is not indicative of a potential misbehavior epidemic. In the 1960s, the juvenile court system introduced approaches to divert arrested youths from the standard processing.

Between the 1970s and 1980s, the topic of diversion became a subject of discussion. Diversion programs identify crimes and characteristics of offenders that will let the suspects be eligible for diversion. Post-booking diversion programs are intended to recognize individuals in court who may be fit for recreation after being arrested. Nevertheless, these programs have limitations like incompatibility with the principles of due process and fundamental justice. Although jail diversion programs appear to be supported globally, few studies have found mixed outcomes on the impact of these approaches.


Alarid, LF, (2016). Community-based corrections, 12th Edition, Cengage (Chapter 13).

Berman, S, (2021). Diversion and first offender programs give defendants a way to avoid criminal convictions. Web.

Choate, L. H., & Manton, J. (2014). Teen Court Counseling Groups: Facilitating Positive Change for Adolescents Who Are First-Time Juvenile Offenders. Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 39(4), 345–365. Web.

Jordan, C., & Daday, J. (2015). Theatre-in-diversion: Evaluating an arts-based approach to combating juvenile delinquency. Theatre Symposium, 23, 81.

Kretschmar, J. M., Tossone, K., Butcher, F., & Marsh, B. (2018). Examining the impact of a juvenile justice diversion program for youth with behavioral health concerns on early adulthood recidivism. Children & Youth Services Review, 91, 168–176. Web.

Leone, P. E., & Wruble, P. C. (2015). Education services in juvenile corrections: 40 years of litigation and reform. Education & Treatment of Children, 38(4), 587–604. Web.

Schlesinger, T. (2018). Decriminalizing radicalized youth through juvenile diversion. The Future of Children, 28(1), 59-82. Web.

Stalker, K. C. (2019). Disproportionality in Juvenile Justice Diversion: An Examination of Teen Court Peer-Derived Consequences. Social Work Research, 43(4), 221–233. Web.

Vail, A., & Nest, J. (1992). Dare To Be You: A Diversion Program for First-Time Juvenile Offenders.

Waung, and Sheeran. (2015), Diversion from formal juvenile court processing. Web.

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