Detour to Opportunity: A Guide on Young Adult Diversion from the Criminal Justice System

Detour to Opportunity: A Guide on Young Adult Diversion from the Criminal Justice System

Published: Aug 30, 2017
Publisher: Washington, DC: Mathematica
Associated Project

Addressing the Critical Needs of Youth Offenders: Evaluating the Impacts of Grant-Funded Programs

Time frame: 2013-2018

Prepared for:

U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

Key Findings

Key Findings:

  • Diversion can help address the racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system. It is well documented that Blacks and Hispanics are overrepresented in the U.S. criminal justice system relative to their proportion in the general population. Diversion may be a tool to reduce the overrepresentation of minorities by routing individuals who do not pose a risk to public safety out of the court system, reducing further penetration into the system.
  • Diversion can intervene at a critical time in a young adult’s life. The transition to adulthood is challenging for many young adults, especially for young adults from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Diversion programs often offer supportive services that can help address young adults’ needs and challenges, while protecting public safety. Because young adults are still developing their personality and sense of self, they are still malleable to positive influences.
  • Diversion of young adults reduces criminal justice system burden and costs. The high prevalence of young adults in the U.S. justice system, the high recidivism of those who get entrenched in the system, and the high costs associated with recidivism make diversion programs a potential method to reduce costs through developmentally appropriate justice interventions.

A growing number of jurisdictions in the United States are creating programs that divert young adults ages 18 to 25 from the criminal justice system and provide them with services such as case management, cognitive behavioral therapy, education, employment training, and community service. Although the requirements of diversion programs vary widely, young adults often must complete services to avoid formal court processing or in exchange for a reduced charge or sentence. Increasing numbers of experts and jurisdictions across the country are considering diversion of young adults as a way to reduce system costs, reduce recidivism, and improve the lives of these young adults and their communities. This guide is a resource for communities, policymakers, and practitioners thinking about implementing or enhancing a program to divert young adults from the criminal justice system after arrest and before conviction. The guide incorporates information gathered from a literature review, interviews with experts in criminal justice, and interviews with staff at young adult diversion programs. This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, as part of the Evaluation of Grants Serving Young Offenders (EGYO) project.

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