The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office (DAO) recently announced a pilot diversion program to place youth who have committed minor offenses in after-school arts classes to help them avoid entering the juvenile justice system. In conjunction with the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP), the program is designed to create a positive environment in which the youth can thrive socially, emotionally, and even academically — and if they successfully complete the program, have their records expunged. A criminal record, whether as an adult or a juvenile, can have long-lasting consequences that follow an individual throughout their life, potentially creating challenges in employment, education, and even housing.
Diversion programs may be focused on activities like the arts program in Philadelphia, or they may involve community service, victim restitution, counseling, curfews, substance abuse treatment, or other conditions specific to the individual. Philadelphia, for example, has 22 different types of juvenile diversion programs, all with the overarching goal of holding youths responsible for their actions while also offering them the opportunity to stay out of the juvenile justice system.
Why Youth Diversion Programs?
The philosophy behind youth diversion programs is that problem behaviors of young offenders, including minor offenses and substance abuse, are better handled outside the juvenile justice system for several reasons.
Research has shown that youths who are labeled delinquent at a young age and are placed alongside other similarly labeled youths not only face negative stigmas but also “can learn antisocial attitudes and behaviors by associating with peers who exhibit such behavior.” The diversion program like the arts-focused one in Philadelphia is intended to specifically combat the “school-to-prison pipeline,” defined by the ACLU as “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice system.”
How Do Youth Diversion Programs Work?
Generally, potential candidates are identified based on the charges pending against them and their needs assessed to determine the correct placement. The youth is then offered the opportunity to be placed in such a program instead of appearing before a judge and must agree to the conditions of completion of the program.
Program durations vary as well, but generally last at least three months. Once a candidate completes the terms of the agreement, the juvenile's delinquency case is discharged and eligible for expungement.
Do Youth Diversion Programs Work?
When measured on recidivism rates, research suggests that, yes, diversion is more effective than traditional judicial interventions. Low-risk young offenders who are diverted are 45% less likely to re-offend than those who face court proceedings. Low-risk generally means those who do not pose a significant threat to public safety and have no history of serious, violent, or chronic offending.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has vast experience successfully guiding youth through diversion programs and helping them avoid contact with the juvenile justice system. Moreover, Attorney Lento worked for years for the Philadelphia juvenile justice system while attending law school and he has unparalleled expertise in the unique practice area that is Pennsylvania juvenile defense. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today for help at 888-535-3686.