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National Evaluation of Diversion Projects - Final Report

NCJ Number
F W Dunford; D W Osgood; H F Weichselbaum
Date Published
814 pages
This evaluation assessed the impact of diversion programs through a literature review, client and justice system impact, client and service provider views of services, and through program costs, concluding that the research data do not support the rationale of diversion programing.
At four program sites, (Kansas City, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; Orange County, Florida; and New York City) cases were chosen for random assignment to dispositional options, i.e., diversion without services, diversion with services, or penetration into the justice system. Support for diversion programing asserts that it curtails negative labeling, promotes positive social adjustment and reduces delinquent and acting-out behavior vis-a-vis traditional justice processing practices. Analysis of 19 labeling measures, however, did not show that youths' subsequent labeling experiences were differentially affected by disposition. Findings associated with analyses for the effects of disposition on adjustment outcomes were similar to those for negative labeling. Delinquency was measured by both self-reported behavior and officially known violations of the law. Diversion from the juvenile justice system did not appear to result in less involvement in delinquent activities. The self-report data suggest that diverting youths for community-based services in the system had no more impact on reducing subsequent involvement in delinquent behavior than did referring them to the next step in the justice system or letting them go without liability. Furthermore, assesssment of service effects suggests that services by probation agencies, community-based agencies and institutions were of little consequence in determining differential impact on either the treatment variables or recidivism measures. Clients consistently described programs as more coercive, more controlling, and less fulfilling in meeting their needs than did service providers. At three sites, the probability of referral to further penetration of the system appears to have been decreased by diversion. The average cost per referral for the first 18 months was $1,302 and ranged from $298 to $3,060. These findings have serious implications for both the future of diversion programing and for the conduct of all youth services. Tabular data, graphs, about 80 references, and extensive appendixes are provided.