Juvenile diversion is an effort made by the state and human rights division to divert or channel out juvenile offending policies from juvenile justice system. This is because in many cases youth who encounter the juvenile justice system do more harm than learn anything good. The main aim of this diversion is to handle juvenile acts inside a formal system instead of bringing them to courts that may inadvertently stigmatise youth for having committed relatively petty acts. Diversion programs consist of prevention and intervention programs, aimed to provide youth with every possible opportunity to become productive citizen. On the other hand, these diversion intervention and prevention strategies are for those, who have been identified for having a greater risk of re-offending (Mihalick, 2002).
Youth convicted for crime under the age of 18 in Florida is referred to the department specializing in the juvenile justice. Although it is similar to cases of arrest of adults, the department gives recommendation to the court or state attorney to provide them with appropriate sanctions specified for juvenile delinquency. In Florida several juvenile diversion programs are currently implemented. Among prevention programs are Truancy Arbitration Program, Program for At-Risk Students, Victim Impact Panel, and School Outreach Program. Among intervention programs are Jailed Juvenile Mentor Program, Teen Court Program, Juvenile Drug Court, and Juvenile Arbitration Program.
All programs are designed to achieve some specific goals and work on different dimensions of the issue, however, Teens Court and Service and Treatment for Offender Prevention are most commonly used (Basta, 1988).
Teens Court Program
This program serves as a non-judicial juvenile diversion justice program for youth convicted of crime and is considered a part of Juvenile Arbitration Program. Apart from this, it also provides the facility of educational forum for non-offending youth within the society. This way it allows the youth to take part in legal process, get to know about the court system, and understand what type of career opportunities the court system has to offer (Mihalick, 2002).
Working to Reduce Juvenile Crime
Juveniles convicted of crime and those who have charges against them are eligible to participate in the Teen Court. Convicted youth are to participate only once and should have parents or guardians present during all their court proceedings. After the hearing sanctions against the crime done are imposed by the court. All defendants are assumed to admit irresponsibility of their behaviour and punishment sentenced for it. The time given for completion of sanctions is maximum six weeks. It also includes various educational courses such as pre-teen awareness class, substance awareness program, theft prevention counselling, and dropout prevention education counselling along with other courses. In the end the defendant has to meet the court panel to ensure that all sanctions that have been assigned to him are completed and only then he earns dismal of the charge (SAO, 2012).
Goals and Objectives
The main objective of this program is to reduce the increasing pattern of criminal behaviour among juveniles. This is done by introducing healthy attitude practices such as promoting self-esteem and motivation. On the other hand, the main goal of Teens Court is to separate the juvenile court from criminal court, which instead of removing juvenile delinquency act as a school for criminal behaviour.
Key Participants of the Program
Key participants of the program are public defenders, assistant state attorneys, police officers, teen court staff. Although the case is heard by peer groups, officials acts as ‘hearing judge’ and often provide assistance to students when required.
This Teen Court does not address serious criminal acts such as murder and other violent behaviours. It provides services such as traffic teen court with an aim to decrease jail tours due to traffic infractions. On the other hand, a Truancy Teen court is dedicated to establish a habit of non-attendance and unexcused leaves. Other services include introduction of healthy attitude practices such as promoting self-esteem and motivation (SAO, 2012).
Service and Treatment for Offender Prevention program (S.T.O.P.) is created to serve juveniles with repetitive criminal behaviour or third degree felony offences such as personal violence, usage of weapons, and grand theft issues. In this program offenders are required to complete sanctions of gainful employment or school attendance, provide community services and perform other duties according to individualised punishments (Mark, 1992). However, it does not keep record of juveniles convicted of crime so that they can avoid prosecutions.
Working to Reduce Juvenile Crime
Working starts from initial hearing during which the offender is assigned with appropriate sanctions. For example, 50 credit hours of providing services to the local community and mandatory contact with the court. The second hearing takes place two months after the initial hearing and verifies whether the offender is complying with sanctions or not. Hence a final report is later sent to the referring agency responsible for the disposition of youth (SAO, 2012).
Goals and Objectives
As the name indicates, the purpose of this program is to stop repetition of criminal acts through punishments. However, punishments are to reinvent the social and moral behaviour in juvenile such as community services. This helps to make teens understand their role in the society as individuals.
Key Participants of the Program
Eligible participants of this program are youth convicted of the repetitive offense, law enforcement agencies, state attorneys, parents/guardians, judges, and program director.
Services provided for youth in this program are behavioural counselling as well as anger and conflict management courses designed to help avoid juvenile delinquency. Traditionally, these are prevention techniques used to remove the root cause of criminal behaviour (SAO, 2012).
Many researches have proved that prevention programs designed to reduce juvenile delinquency are based on generic models. However, in this case Teen Court program and S.T.O.P both have their own strategies of prevention. The comparison proves that Teen Program is not appropriate for preventing serious and specified crimes. However, S.T.O.P., on the other hand, provides services to youth that focus on the root cause of such criminal behaviour and targets it with special counselling and behavioural improvement programs. Apart from this, sanctions given in S.T.O.P. are far more effective that Teen Court sanctions as they let the juvenile spend time in counselling school or serving the community. In this way the role and responsibility of being a community member increases and the purpose of punishing the juvenile is fulfilled (SAO, 2012).
Furthermore, the ‘time duration’ and ‘quarterly checking’ of whether the offender is performing his/her job according to given sanctions or not make the whole procedure transparent and enhances its efficiency. This helps to determine what works and what not. On the other hand, Teen Court has judges who are members of peer groups who still need experience to understand the juvenile delinquent behaviour. Experts are present only at hearing and the practice of quarterly checking the sanctions is also not present. This makes it weak in preventing juveniles from criminal behaviour and reduces program’s effectiveness (Greenwood, 2008).
The main aim of diversion program is to handle juvenile acts inside a formal system instead of courts, which may inadvertently stigmatise youth for having committed relatively petty acts. Diversion programs consist of prevention and intervention programs. The aim of these programs is to provide youth with every possible opportunity to become productive citizens. However, it has been noticed that there is a fair chance of following successful strategies being practiced in weak designs (Mihalick, 2002). This is due to the fact that strategies implemented require appropriate assessment tools which can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Additionally, there is always a room for improvement in manmade laws. Additional research should be carried out to strengthen the laws and improve efficacy of prevention programs (Greenwood, 2008).