The United States currently incarcerates roughly 46,000 youth offenders, many for relatively minor offenses. Not only does incarceration pose a significant financial burden on society, but it often proves an inadequate solution to the problem with increased risks from out-of-home placements and the breaking of community and environmental connections. On the other hand, community-based diversion and rehabilitation programs offer the potential for significant improvements and gains in the handling of juvenile delinquency cases.
Community-based youth diversion programs are typically early stage interventions offered to first time and low-level offenders with the stated goal of addressing and adjusting behavior within the structure of the community and familiar environments. Programs may include educational opportunities, screenings and assessments, counseling, treatment and care, as well as family counseling and support for care givers among other resources, and they often function in tandem with the juvenile justice system and other community-based organizations.
One model example of a successful diversion program is the Cook County, Illinois program. The program handles roughly 5,000 defendants annually, and graduates demonstrate significant improvement. In the 12 months following graduation:
- 97 percent of graduates have no new felony arrests
- 86 percent of graduates have no new arrests of any kind
The program—which is free to participants and requires no guilty plea for participation—also boasts cost savings of $1.5 million for drug prevention programs.
Another successful program based in Miami-Dade, Florida, has shown significant success in redirecting mentally ill offenders away from the justice system. Over the last 18 years, the program has reduced the county’s jail population and has been credited with improving public safety. Additionally, research conducted in 2016 demonstrated that rates of annual recidivism among graduates of the program was approximately 20 percent compared to 75 percent for non-graduates.
California is considering managing youth diversion and development programs through the public health departments instead of county-run probation departments. Senate Bill 433 would create a handful of county Office of Youth Development and Diversion across the state as part of a three-year, $10 million pilot project to create coordinated, countywide community-based youth diversion programs. These programs would bring together a wide range of stakeholders, including community-based organizations, law enforcement, and community advocacy groups.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure for vulnerable members of our communities. Youth diversion programs play an important role in connecting youth with supportive care services that can improve their life outcomes and help them thrive long-term. To learn more about how ClientTrack can support and provide the infrastructure for community-wide systems of care for vulnerable populations, click here.
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