Legal Briefs Podcast #3: Youth Diversion Programs: How We Can Keep Kids out of Jail

Contributing Author: Scott B. Peterson, Global Youth Justice, Inc. Chief Executive Officer

What are Youth Justice Diversion Programs?

If you have not heard about Youth/Teen/Student/Peer Court and Peer Jury Diversion Programs, you will most likely be surprised to learn that in the United States, there are now more than 1,800 of the Youth Justice Diversion Programs in municipalities, schools, and tribes — now in 48 U.S. states, and 10 countries. In the U.S., the federal government and most states use juvenile justice to describe our court system for minors — but in most countries like Canada, Australia, and the U.K., youth justice is the common term. In the U.S. and around the globe, Global Youth Justice, Inc. refers to youth/teen/student/peer court and peer juries called “Youth Justice Diversion Programs.”

Two of the distinct programmatic elements in these Youth Justice Diversion Programs are that they are uniquely youth-led and volunteer-driven, to include both youth and adults in key volunteer roles. Depending on local decisions of adult leaders on how these diversion programs will work, volunteer youth can serve as jurors, attorneys, judges, clerks, and/or bailiffs. The youth involved in these programs include both volunteers and youth offenders. After more than 25 years of championing these diversion programs, I believe the message ultimately comes down to, “if negative peer pressure is a primary factor in leading some youth to commit crimes, then positive peer pressure can be a positive force in leading people to adhere to the rule of law, and become more productive citizens.” There are tremendous youth service and youth civic benefits that result from youth diversion programs.

Because these Youth Justice Diversion Programs are youth-led and volunteer-driven, they are among the least expensive diversion programs. This makes these diversion programs affordable, scalable, and sustainable, which likely accounts for why they are the most replicated juvenile justice program in the U.S., starting with the first Juvenile Court in 1899 in Cook County, Illinois. The most common implementers are district attorney offices, state attorney offices, courts, police, nonprofits, schools, bar associations, youth bureaus, youth services, probation, and sheriff offices among several others.

Involvement by Local Prosecutors

Local prosecutors’ offices from California to Louisiana to Illinois to New York are now directly operating dozens of these diversion programs, and involved in hundreds more of them. Staff in local prosecutor’s offices can often choose from a wide range of meaningful and volunteer roles. They train young people to serve in youth/teen/student/peer court and peer roles, such as judges, prosecutors, defenders, clerks, or jurors. They also teach community service classes to young offenders about civics, the rule of law, and legal rights and responsibilities. Often, they are the catalysts who are starting these diversion programs, and bring the community together to address juvenile delinquency. Maybe they heard about the program on a podcast like this, at a conference, or from an announcement they received. Staff in prosecutors’ offices are also involved on committees, advisory boards and nonprofit boards of directors for these diversion programs. Involvement is often unlike a time commitment required for being a mentor, as many adult volunteer roles require volunteer time, maybe five or six times each year. We’re very appreciative of the time and effort that local prosecutors devote to these programs — they make a big impact on the youth.

See below to learn more and get involved:

Global Youth Justice Website
(100% public domain with free technical assistance materials)

20+ Global Youth Justice Social Media Platforms

23rd Global Youth Justice Trainings in 2020
March 31, 2020 — April 2, 2020 in Las Vegas, and more TBA

Global Youth Justice Newsletter

500+ Local Websites on Youth/Teen/Student/Peer Court
(Listed alphabetically by state)

Contact Global Youth Justice, Inc. and/or Scott Bernard Peterson