A new report by The Sentencing Project calls pre-arrest and pre-trial diversion “a crucial, untapped opportunity” to fix racially disproportionate arrests and incarceration. Just as Black, Latino, Asian and native American youth are arrested in disproportionate numbers, they are awarded diversion opportunities less often. This feeds the cycle of punishment because youth who face the most punitive aspects of the juvenile system end up in more trouble later. “Reforms to expand and improve the use of diversion offer perhaps the most important and promising avenue currently available to reduce disparities and to improve youth justice systems nationwide,” according to the report by Richard Mendel, a senior research fellow in youth justice at The Sentencing Project.
While only 7 percent of youth referred to juvenile or family courts for delinquency each year are accused of serious violent offenses, between 40 and 48 percent of youth of color received diversion (the number for white youth was slightly higher, at 52 percent). Thus, the report concludes, “a large majority of youth” accused of delinquency should be diverted rather than arrested and sent through the juvenile court system. That would expose more youth to the rewards of diversion, including far lower likelihood of future arrests, less likelihood of incarceration, and better outcomes in education and employment. The report recommends a number of fixes that have been used in various states.