Juvenile Justice Diversion Works, Begun Center Research Shows

Image of 4 young people sitting in session setting with facilitator in foreground

Researchers from the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education Jeff Kretschmar, PhD, Krystel Tossone, PhD, and Fredrick Butcher, PhD, published “Examining the impact of a juvenile justice diversion program for youth with behavioral health concerns on early adulthood recidivism” in this month’s Child and Youth Services Review. Barbara Marsh from the Board of Public Health of Dayton Montgomery County also contributed.

The majority of juvenile justice-involved youth report significant behavioral health and trauma concerns. The complexity of the needs of these youth have led many jurisdictions to develop diversion programming as an alternative to detention. While evidence exists that these programs can produce positive outcomes, particularly as they relate to juvenile recidivism, much less is known about their impact on adult offending. Their paper explores the impacts of these programs on early adult recidivism.

The Montgomery County court system in southwest Ohio provided both juvenile and early adulthood data. Their conclusion: Youth diversion programs work.

Three groups were examined for the research: “We examined data from Ohio’s Behavioral Health Juvenile Justice Initiative, a diversion program for juvenile justice-involved youth with behavioral health issues,” said Kretschmar. “When we evaluate diversion programs like this, we typically only have access to juvenile records. We don’t know what happens when kids age out of the juvenile system. We wanted to know. The data out of Dayton (Montgomery County) suggests the effects of juvenile diversion programs extend to early adulthood.”

  • youth appropriate for diversion programs but who did not participate;
  • youth who participated but did not complete treatment; and
  • youth who successfully completed treatment.

Highlights from the research show that, compared to the other groups, youths who successfully completed the juvenile diversion program had lower odds of reoffending as young adults, with fewer young-adult offenses.

Next, Kretschmar said researchers will attempt to gather similar data from other program sites in an attempt to replicate these findings.

“You can imagine the possibilities additional data can bring,” Kretschmar said. “With more data, from all over the state, we could see what treatments work best, for whom, and why.”