Juvenile Law Center

Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Diversion Strategies

Studies show that most youthful offenders outgrow delinquent behavior. Moreover, instead of making communities safer, locking up youth actually increases their chances of becoming more deeply involved in criminal activity.Many children are thus inappropriately referred to the justice system, and youth who are adjudicated delinquent face serious long-term consequences that impede their ability to become productive adults. See Protecting and Expunging Juvenile Records. Moreover, children of color are disproportionally represented at all stages of the juvenile justice system;2 schools and the child welfare system are major feeders into the delinquency system, and their referrals significantly contribute to racial and ethnic disparities.3   

Juvenile Law Center advocates for diverting appropriate youth to treatment or other alternatives that can better address their needs, thereby limiting unnecessary referrals. With thoughtful screening and programming, diversion can simultaneously reduce unnecessary incarceration, promote better futures for youth, and promote public safety. Diversion is a critical tool for stemming the “school-to-prison pipeline,” minimizing “crossover” from dependency into delinquency, and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.  

Juvenile Law Center is engaged in multiple diversion initiatives throughout the United States. As part of Models for Change, Juvenile Law Center started and now co-chairs the Diversion Subcommittee of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Committee, which funds, supports, and evaluates innovative diversion projects in Pennsylvania. With the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at Georgetown University, Juvenile Law Center co-created and now co-teaches the Diversion Certificate Program in Washington, D.C. The program – which is largely based on the Models for Change Juvenile Diversion Guidebook – attracts interdisciplinary teams of law enforcement, juvenile probation, juvenile court judges and intake personnel, school administrators, and treatment providers from around the country. The program is taught by practitioners who successfully run diversion programs, and offers training and technical assistance on best practices. Juvenile Law Center also serves on the advisory board to the Crossroads Study, a multi-site research project that is investigating the long-term impacts of formal versus informal processing of first-time juvenile offenders.

Through publications, presentations, and direct advocacy, we promote laws and policies to counteract “zero-tolerance” school discipline policies that needlessly push youth into the juvenile justice system for behaviors that were previously addressed by school personnel. We participate in various coalitions as well as a national working group that develops legal strategies to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.

Juvenile Law Center also promotes policies that divert youth from prosecution for typical yet undesirable adolescent behaviors, such as “sexting,” and instead offer education about the potential risks and consequences of these actions.



1 Pathways to Desistance Study
2 Charles Puzzanchera, Benjamin Adams & Sarah Hockenberry, National Center for Juvenile Justice. Juvenile Court Statistics 2009, pp. 20, 39, 2012. 
3 Dear Colleague Letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline, 2014; Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, Annual Report 2010, pp. 3-4; Shay Bilchik & Michael Nash, Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice: Two Sides of the Same Coin, Juv. & Fam. Just. Today, 16, Fall 2008. 

Last updated: 2/10/2015

Support Juvenile Law Center

One of the most important lessons from our 40 years of experience is that children involved with the justice and foster care systems need zealous legal advocates. Your support for our work is more important now than ever before. Support