Point-of-arrest youth diversion schemes are a way of addressing low-level criminal behaviour without putting a young person through prosecution or formal cautions. Making smart use of diversion can reduce crime and create better outcomes for young people, making them more likely to engage with education, training or employment and letting them avoid a criminal record which could hang over them for years to come.
Research shows that putting young people into the criminal justice system actually makes them more likely to commit crime, and that this effect gets stronger the deeper they get into the system. When similar groups of young people are compared, those who are diverted at the point of arrest are less likely to reoffend than those who are put through the criminal justice system. Point of arrest diversion is part of a family of approaches which seek to keep young people of out the formal justice system where possible.
As well as reducing reoffending, youth diversion can also cut costs. Schemes that offer alternatives to prosecutions and cautions, avoid the costs of police, prosecution and court time. Schemes that enable earlier access to health and other social service needs further save money, and savings are also made by producing better outcomes such as reducing reoffending.
Youth diversion today
Youth diversion schemes currently operate as a variety of different models across the country.
Despite the evidence behind it, youth diversion is not a statutory duty of youth offending teams (YOTs). A survey of YOTs we conducted highlighted the fear among practitioners that, due to mounting budget pressures, youth diversion was losing investment. Over the course of the summer 2018 we will be mapping youth diversion across England and Wales. The project aims to fill a significant gap in information at a national level about even the most basic aspects of youth diversion. Knowledge of where schemes operate, the number of children and young people diverted, and the impact diversion has across the country is not routinely captured, collated or used to inform policy or practice. Despite its strong evidence base, with no central identification of gaps or the realities of provision, the case for continued investment can be hard to make. Through better understanding of current provision, we can work to increase the use and effectiveness of diversion.
The evidence on youth diversion
An international analysis involving more than 7,300 young people over 35 years represents the most comprehensive analysis to date of the impact of formal justice system on young lives and future offending. It found that the criminal justice system process appears to increase offending.
In England and Wales, available evidence suggests positive re-offending outcomes associated with pilot youth triage areas. An evaluation of youth justice liaison and diversion schemes additionally found significant increases in time to re-offending.
The Welsh diversion programme, Bureau, also reported lower re-arrest and re-conviction rates for young people receiving a non-criminalising disposal rather than a formal disposal.