Youth crime is increasingly becoming a problem in the United States (NCWD 3). This problem cuts across all genders and racial/ethnic groups. Factors increasing the chances of young people committing crime include; family conflict, availability of drugs, substance abuse, peer pressure, parental criminality, lack of supervision, low social status, poor educational attainment, community disorganization, and lack of social commitment. Reports indicate that up to 2 million juveniles commit a crime annually. These young offenders are arrested and charged for their offences, and more than 33,000 juveniles were incarcerated in 2017 (Schlesinger 60). The judicial system intends to maintain order by punishing and rehabilitating young offenders. However, studies show that youth who come into contact with the justice system experience adverse outcomes, including disengagement from school, school disciplinary problems and academic failure (Fan 2). Therefore, there are calls to prevent teenagers from getting involved with the police and judicial system using initiatives like youth diversion programs. Youth diversion programs protect teenagers from the adverse effects of judicial system involvement. They affect the crime rate by reducing recidivism or the chances of a teenager involved in the judicial system to reoffend.
Some minors commit serious offences and should be confined within secure settings. However, statistics show that most youths commit minor offences, including truancy from school, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, disobedience, and curfew violence (NCWD 4). Such teenagers end up on probation of placement facilities. A diversion program is an alternative to the initial or continued formal processing of teenagers in the justice system. A teenager can be diverted from the juvenile system after initial contact with law enforcement without further police or judicial processing. It can also occur after the youth is charged and redirected into an alternative system like community-based treatment (NCWD 4). Diversion programs are productive ways of addressing and preventing delinquency than confinement. Second, formal processing through the justice system does more harm than good. The youth are labelled and exposed to circumstances within juvenile systems that may increase delinquency (NCWD 5).
Diversion programs are designed to provide different experiences from conventional juvenile justice experiences (Schlesinger 61). Although the programs vary, they share a similar goal to prevent future offending by addressing delinquency in the community. Some programs are designed to meet the unique needs of teenagers with substance abuse and mental health problems. Services provided in the diversion programs include; screening and assessment, education/tutorial services, substance use counselling, victim awareness, crisis intervention, mental health treatment, job skills training, family counselling, rebuilding family relationships, developing parenting skills, and quality recreation (Schlesinger 62).
III. Personal Connection
Adolescence is a crucial phase in life that needs utmost parental care, guidance and empathy (Fan 4). Teenagers brought up with caution develop into healthy adults who can improve society and become leaders for a brighter future. The lack of parental care and guidance are among the risk factors of delinquency. Therefore, parents and guardians should be actively involved in raising their children and monitoring their behaviour. Empathy is concerned with understanding and sharing the teenager’s feelings. Community members and law enforcement officers should strive to understand young offenders. Understanding their feelings is the first step to addressing delinquency (Fan 4).
IV. Literature Review
Two theories support diversion programs; first, labelling theory posits that there are negative consequences of labelling a teenager as delinquent (Fan 5). Minors that come into contact with the justice system, processed and punished, are referred to as delinquents. Sanctions are intended to deter the youth from engaging in criminal activity. However, labelling them as delinquents harms teenagers. For example, the stigma associated with being called a delinquent or incarceration limits them from accessing opportunities or other roles. Second, the differential association theory asserts that adolescents learn antisocial behaviours by associating with peers exhibiting similar behaviour (NCWD 7). Detaining youth offenders provides an opportunity to associate with adolescents with antisocial behaviour, encouraging further undesirable behaviours. However, these theories content that not all youth should be redirected from the formal judicial processing. Those that demonstrate a considerable threat to public safety should be separated from the community. Such teenagers commit violent crimes or have a history of chronic offending (NCWD 7).
Police officers, prosecutors, judges, court staff, and educators make diversion decisions (Schlesinger 70). They can make these decisions at the following stages; law enforcement officers have the first opportunity for diversion when they decide not to make an arrest. School officials may also decide not to involve the police when teenagers commit minor offences. Second, prosecutors can determine that the adolescent is not a threat to public safety (Schlesinger 71). Therefore, it is in the adolescent’s interest not to refer the case to formal processing. Third, a young offender can be redirected after being referred to the juvenile system. Prosecutors, judges or juvenile court officers can decide that formal processing would neither benefit the minor nor make the public safer (Schlesinger 72).
Diversions range in intensity. First-time offenders are warned and released (Fan 6). School staff, parents/guardians and community members address the misconduct using various approaches. However, those with an extensive history of offences or more significant needs require specialized intervention. Human services agencies are involved in addressing their problems. There are disparities in the juvenile diversion. Youth of colour are far less redirected than their white counterparts (Fan 7). There are policies intended to ensure fairness in the system. However, the decision-makers are more likely to divert white youth from formal prosecution and consider them successfully redirected. These disparities have persisted across time and offence types. For example, a white youth involved in aggravated assault is more likely to be diverted than a black teenager involved in an offence against public order like trespassing (Fan 7).
This study used high-quality scholarly journals. For starters, all the authors are experts in the issue of study. For example, Traci Schlesinger is an associate professor of sociology (Schlesinger 60). Second, the articles are published in reputable journals. For instance, the article entitled Decriminalizing Racialized Youth through Juvenile Diversion is published in The Future of Children journal. Third, the studies use evidence such as government records to present their arguments. Finally, the studies are relevant to the issue of study.
VI. Lesson Learned
I have learned that the community plays a crucial role in preventing subsequent delinquency. Parents, guardians, and school staff should actively address and prevent antisocial behaviour (Schlesinger 65). Active participation enables them to identify and address behavioural issues timely. This increases the chances of changing adolescents’ behaviour.
In conclusion, youth diversion programs reduce crime by reducing recidivism. These are alternative opportunities for addressing and preventing juvenile delinquency. Instead of processing youth offenders in the judicial system, communal intervention programs address behavioural problems. Youth diversion is effective in reducing subsequent crime (Schlesinger 62). However, disparities exist in youth redirection. Young white offenders are highly likely to be diverted from the judicial system than their black counterparts. Therefore, studies should be conducted on ensuring fairness in youth diversion programs.
Farn, Amber. “Improving Outcome for Justice-involved Youth through Structured Decision-making and Diversion.” Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, 2018, pp.1-15.
NCWD. “Making the Right Turn: A Research Update on Prevention and Diversion for Justice Involved Youth.” Research Brief, no.4, 2018, pp.1-24.
Schlesinger, Traci. “Decriminalizing Racialized Youth through Juvenile Diversion.” The Future of Children, vol.28, no.1, 2018, pp.59-81.