Juvenile Court and Contemporary Diversion: Helpful, Harmful, or Both?

Daniel P. Mears, Joshua J. Kuch, Andrea M. Lindsey, Sonja E. Siennick, George B. Pesta, Mark A. Greenwald, Thomas G. Blomberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Research Summary: The juvenile court was established to help children through the use of punishment and rehabilitation and, in so doing, “save” them from a life of crime and disadvantage. Diversion programs and policies emerged in the 1970s as one way to achieve this goal. Despite concerns about its potential harm, diversion became increasingly popular in subsequent decades. We examine the logic of a prominent contemporary diversion effort, civil citation, to illuminate tensions inherent to traditional and contemporary diversion. We then review extant evidence on traditional diversion efforts, examine civil citation laws, and identify the salience of both traditional and contemporary, police-centered diversion efforts for youth and the juvenile court. The analysis highlights that diversion may help children but that it also may harm them. It highlights that the risk of net-widening for the police and the court is considerable. And it highlights the importance of, and need for, research on the use and effects of diversion and the conditions under which it may produce benefits and avoid harms. Policy Implications: This article recommends a more tempered embrace of diversion and a fuller embrace of research-guided efforts to achieve the juvenile court's ideals. Diversion may be effective under certain conditions, but these conditions need to be identified and then met.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)953-981
Number of pages29
JournalCriminology and Public Policy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • child-saving
  • diversion
  • juvenile court
  • juvenile justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Administration
  • Law


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