First-time juvenile offenders are increasingly diverted from the justice system post-arrest. Although widely researched, programs frequently differ in how they define diversion, with two broad categories of program emerging in the literature: formal and informal diversion programs, which differ in the level of monitoring youth receive post-arrest. Reports on diversion programs frequently emphasize their relationships to recidivism, however, few describe differences between diverted and non-diverted youth. In this investigation, we 1) describe the characteristics of youth diverted after first arrest from a large, urban juvenile justice system over an 11-year span, and 2) describe demographic and criminal charge predictors of formal and informal diversion in this sample.
This was a secondary analysis of data on 22,065 Medicaid-enrolled youth arrested for the first time in one urban Indiana county between 2005 and 2016. Youth’s diversion status was identified according to their case status; decisions were made in collaboration with county juvenile justice officials and in consultation with literature on other diversion programs. To examine predictors of diversion, we performed a multinomial logistic regression with age at first arrest, gender, racial identity, and charge type as predictors of entry into informal or formal diversion programs, or court-processing. Two-way interactions between predictor variables were all entered into the model and were removed using backward deletion until only statistically significant interactions were included, with alpha < .01 to account for multiple interaction tests.
Among 22,065 youth, 7,749 (35.1%) were informally diverted and 4,041 (18.3%) entered formal diversion programs, while 10,275 (46.6%) were processed in court. Youth who were younger at first arrest (B=-.21, P<.00) white youth (compared to black youth or youth of color; B = .71, P = .01), and youth arrested under drug (B=3.1, P<.00) or status offenses (B=-2.7, P<.00) (compared with violent or property offenses) were most likely to be formally diverted. Meanwhile, younger youth (B=.18, P<.00) and female youth (compared to male youth; B=.16, P=.01) were most likely to be informally diverted. Interactions between predictors of diversion were also significant. Most significantly, female youth arrested for violent or property offenses were more likely to be diverted (either formally; B=.81, P<.00) or informally; B=.10, P<.00) compared to male youth arrested for similar offenses. Black youth and youth of color who were arrested for violent offenses were also less likely to be informally diverted (B=-.49, P<.00) compared to white youth arrested for similar offenses.
Existing research suggests that formal diversion programs lead to improved behavioral health outcomes and reduce future delinquency. Meanwhile, informal diversion programs can limit deeper involvement in the criminal justice system. Given these outcomes, it is important to better understand differences in which youth get diverted, either informally or formally, and which youth are more likely to be adjudicated in court. Individual jurisdictions may differ in their guidelines on when to divert youth or may allow for significant individual decisions for police or probation officers; investigations like these may highlight problematic demographic patterns in youth diversion, allowing jurisdictions to identify and set clearer policies.
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© 2022 Published by Elsevier Inc.