Press Release

New Report: America’s Growing Movement to Divert Youth Out of the Justice System

Nearly half the states have taken noteworthy steps in recent years to expand or improve diversion as an alternative to arrest or prosecution in juvenile court.

Related to: Youth Justice

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, The Sentencing Project released a new report, “Protect and Redirect: America’s Growing Movement to Divert Youth Out of the Justice System,” which describes reforms implemented in 23 states and eight localities across the country to expand and improve the use of diversion as an alternative to arrest or formal prosecution in juvenile court.

Research shows that addressing adolescent misbehavior outside of the justice system through diversion typically yields better outcomes: youth who are diverted from the justice system are far less likely to be arrested for subsequent offenses and far more likely to succeed in education and employment than comparable youth who are arrested and prosecuted in juvenile court. Greater and more targeted use of diversion has also shown promise to reduce the persistent racial and ethnic disparities that pervade youth justice systems.

“Diversion has long been an option in juvenile justice, but it has been sorely underutilized – especially for youth of color,” says report’s author, Richard A. Mendel, Senior Research Fellow at The Sentencing Project. “It is gratifying to see the youth justice field awakening to the importance of diversion in lieu of arrest and formal court processing, and to see legislatures across the country support greater use of diversion. We hope to see this momentum accelerate in the years to come.”

The report describes a host of promising diversion reforms that have been implemented by states and local youth justice systems:

  • KansasMichiganNew HampshireUtah, and Washington, as well as Harris County (Houston), TX and Ramsey County (St. Paul), MN have created new laws, programs, or pathways to increase the use of diversion. Additionally,  Connecticut, Idaho, North Dakota, and Clark County (Las Vegas), NV have embraced reforms to steer lower-risk youth with significant human service needs away from the justice system.
  • KentuckyNew York, and several counties in Iowa and Pennsylvania have been leaders in efforts to address longstanding racial and ethnic disparities in diversion by undertaking comprehensive reviews to identify and address problematic practices that have been causing diversion disparities, and by revising diversion-related policies that often disadvantage youth of color.
        • ColoradoMinnesota, and Nebraska have expanded the use of restorative justice as an alternative to formal court involvement;
        • Florida and Los Angeles County, CA have embraced reforms to substantially increase the use of pre-arrest diversion, which is even more effective than diversion from court following an arrest; and
        • KansasKentucky, and South Dakota, as well as Santa Cruz County, CA and Davidson County (Nashville), TN have been leaders in providing support to diverted youth or taking other steps to minimize the share of youth who are returned to court for noncompliance with diversion.
  • ColoradoIndianaMassachusetts, and Utah are among the states that have taken action to improve the collection and sharing of data to better inform diversion policies and programs.

“Protect and Redirect: America’s Growing Movement to Divert Youth Out of the Justice System” is the first of a five-part series called “Protect and Redirect” that examines the growing movement to expand diversion programs around the country and provides practical tools for criminal legal practitioners, youth justice lawmakers and advocates to implement successful diversion programs. Subsequent reports in the series will be released in April 2024 and will focus on:

  • Reducing racial and ethnic disparities;
  • Best practices for juvenile diversion;
  • Using data to reduce disparities and improve outcomes in diversion; and
  • Effective messaging to promote juvenile diversion reform.

Click here to read the first report, Protect and Redirect: America’s Growing Movement to Divert Youth Out of the Justice System.

Related Resources

View all resources