After an extensive survey of the field and countless interviews with juvenile justice, child welfare and education providers, MCCD's newest report, Restoring Kids, Restoring Communities: Transforming Michigan’s Approach to Juvenile Diversion” attempted to answer this basic question.

From 2013 - 2015, there were 33,500 youth cases referred to juvenile diversion programs, comprising of 1/3rd of all new juvenile case filing disposals.

MCCD is dedicated to transforming Michigan’s approach to youth justice through promoting and expanding the use of diversion-to-arrest and diversion-to-adjudication options throughout the juvenile justice system. 

 

We know that community-led approaches, founded on principles of youth well-being and restorative justice, can serve as successful alternatives and divert a young person completely away from traditional court involvement. In fact, OJJDP data shows our state is shifting away from an over-reliance on formal court supervision (probation) and/or confinement as the primary methods for dealing with young people in trouble with the law.

 

What does youth diversion look like in Michigan's juvenile justice system?

Some of the report's major findings include:

 

Michigan counties are incentivized to provide diversion only after a court petition is filed.

  • Research shows that the speed in which a youth begins diversion programming helps to reduce recidivism; delays in treatment likely result in the program losing its effectiveness.

  • Despite this research, 90% of all diversion programs in Michigan begin services for youth only after a court petition has been filed, and almost all are managed by the court.

  • Approximately 50% of all diversion referrals occur after a youth has been in contact with the juvenile court, and sometimes as late as when the youth is standing before a judge during a preliminary hearing.

 

Diversion is generally not offered to youth unless they have a first-time, low-level offense. 

  • Diversion is proven to be effective for most youth, including those that are considered to be at a high risk to reoffend, when adequate resources and supports are provided.

  • Nonetheless, 83% of Michigan diversion programs limit eligibility to youth who are first-time offenders, typically charged with low-level misdemeanors.

  • In 17% of Michigan programs, youth can only participate if they have committed specific offenses, such as truancy, substance abuse, and misdemeanor retail fraud or other low-level property crimes.  

Youth of color, especially black youth, are less likely to receive diversion than white youth.

  • Black youth account for approximately 35% of all juvenile arrests in Michigan, despite comprising only 18% of the population.

  • Once contact with the justice system is made, Black youth are less likely to be offered diversion, and are more likely to be, instead, arrested, have a petition filed, detained, and transferred to the adult system.

Michigan provides inconsistent diversion services across county lines, despite youth having similar needs.

  • Almost two-thirds of the county juvenile courts use consent calendar as a primary method of diversion and, for many smaller counties, it is often the only diversion option available to youth.

  • Thirty-six counties offer more than one diversion program; with six of these counties operating three or more programs.

Lack of data and inconsistent use of evaluations leave Michigan counties unclear about whether diversion programs are actually working.

  • While nearly all diversion providers reported positive anecdotes about their programs’ successes, only 18% completed outcome evaluations.

  • Among the programs that were evaluated, the majority reported high rates of successful program completion, with less than a 20% re-offense rates within one year of program participation.

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