Juvenile diversion programs have been created to divert youth from their early encounters with the juvenile court system. These programs involve a suspension of formal criminal or juvenile justice proceedings against an alleged offender, and the referral of that adolescent to a treatment or care program. Diversion programs usually are intended for first-time offenders, but may be extended to youth with past offenses based on the discretion of the stakeholders described below.
Some communities in Nebraska have juvenile diversion programs for youth who have been through formal juvenile court prosecution; however, the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice recommends juvenile pretrial diversion programs, in which youth are diverted before any contact with the juvenile court. Youth are referred to a pretrial diversion program by their county attorney who determines the eligibility of the alleged offender. Youth participate in these programs voluntarily before prosecution.
Diversion programs reduce the stigma associated with a court conviction, thereby reducing the chances for future criminal involvement and allowing youth to actively choose alternatives to criminal activity.
Diversion programs aim to reduce recidivism by improving the youth's social adjustment -- for example, by strengthening family relationships, enhancing self-esteem, or improving decision-making skills.
Diversion programs reduce the costs of county court and improve the juvenile justice system's efficiency. Specifically, a sizeable percentage of local law enforcement financial costs come from juvenile crime:
Juvenile diversion programs include youth who have been arrested,
or in some cases youth who have been referred to the program by parents,
teachers, or police because they appear to be "at-risk" for criminal
involvement. These programs give youth an opportunity for youth to work
through problems outside the juvenile court system.
InIn 1997 there were 46 juvenile pre-trial diversion programs in Nebraska serving youth in 44 counties.
Youth who have come into contact with law enforcement (or who seem to be "at-risk" for involvement with juvenile court) and have chosen to participate in diversion programs rather than go through formal court processing.
Parents or guardians, whose participation is critical to diversion programs' success. These programs not only aim to improve family communication, but they provide parents with the skills and support to be more effective in providing guidelines and support to their child. Parental participation is required in some programs; it is not required in others. p>
The county attorney, who decides whether to divert youth from the juvenile court system.
ThThe diversion coordinator, who manages the juvenile diversion program. Other stakeholders may include: siblings and extended family members; school teachers; county commissioners; and attorneys representing the youth involved.
Research on juvenile diversion programs operated through Nebraska Cooperative Extension shows that these programs pay off -- for law enforcement officials, the court system, youth and their families, and communities involved.