skip to main content
Washington State Institute for Public Policy
Back Button

Diversion with services (vs. traditional juvenile court processing)

Juvenile Justice
Benefit-cost methods last updated December 2018.  Literature review updated July 2015.
Open PDF
Diversion is an alternative to formal sanctions or processing in the juvenile justice system. A primary goal of diversion is to alleviate the negative consequences associated with the juvenile justice system, such as stigmatizing youth as deviant or providing youth opportunities to learn deviant behavior through further exposure to more serious offenders. By diverting youth out of the juvenile justice system, youth can maintain attachment to pro-social norms in their communities. Youth are provided with community-based services.

Diversion programs included in this meta-analysis vary in structure and processing as well as the type of youth who are diverted. While some programs divert youth at the initial stages of the juvenile justice system (e.g., law enforcement), others divert youth once they reach the juvenile courts. This meta-analysis includes diversion programs coupled with treatment compared to youth who were processed traditionally through the juvenile courts. We used multiple regression to explore whether some program characteristics—such as diversion at the police level (as opposed to the juvenile court level) or diversion coupled with treatment—were more effective at reducing recidivism. We found no statistically significant effects associated with these two program characteristics.
The estimates shown are present value, life cycle benefits and costs. All dollars are expressed in the base year chosen for this analysis (2017). The chance the benefits exceed the costs are derived from a Monte Carlo risk analysis. The details on this, as well as the economic discount rates and other relevant parameters are described in our Technical Documentation.
Benefit-Cost Summary Statistics Per Participant
Benefits to:
Taxpayers $538 Benefits minus costs $2,853
Participants $113 Benefit to cost ratio n/a
Others $1,090 Chance the program will produce
Indirect $528 benefits greater than the costs 94 %
Total benefits $2,269
Net program cost $585
Benefits minus cost $2,853
1In addition to the outcomes measured in the meta-analysis table, WSIPP measures benefits and costs estimated from other outcomes associated with those reported in the evaluation literature. For example, empirical research demonstrates that high school graduation leads to reduced crime. These associated measures provide a more complete picture of the detailed costs and benefits of the program.

2“Others” includes benefits to people other than taxpayers and participants. Depending on the program, it could include reductions in crime victimization, the economic benefits from a more educated workforce, and the benefits from employer-paid health insurance.

3“Indirect benefits” includes estimates of the net changes in the value of a statistical life and net changes in the deadweight costs of taxation.
Detailed Monetary Benefit Estimates Per Participant
Benefits from changes to:1 Benefits to:
Taxpayers Participants Others2 Indirect3 Total
Crime $459 $0 $1,062 $229 $1,750
Labor market earnings associated with high school graduation $64 $141 $65 $0 $270
Health care associated with educational attainment $29 ($8) ($31) $14 $4
Costs of higher education ($13) ($20) ($6) ($7) ($47)
Adjustment for deadweight cost of program $0 $0 $0 $292 $292
Totals $538 $113 $1,090 $528 $2,269
Detailed Annual Cost Estimates Per Participant
Annual cost Year dollars Summary
Program costs $853 2014 Present value of net program costs (in 2017 dollars) $585
Comparison costs $1,300 2008 Cost range (+ or -) 10 %
Depending on the population, diversion can last from 1 to 12 months. The per-participant cost estimate for diverted youth was provided by the Thurston County Juvenile Court. The comparison group cost estimate assumes youth would have been on probation for three months and was derived using probation cost data from WSIPP's benefit-cost model.
The figures shown are estimates of the costs to implement programs in Washington. The comparison group costs reflect either no treatment or treatment as usual, depending on how effect sizes were calculated in the meta-analysis. The cost range reported above reflects potential variation or uncertainty in the cost estimate; more detail can be found in our Technical Documentation.
Estimated Cumulative Net Benefits Over Time (Non-Discounted Dollars)
The graph above illustrates the estimated cumulative net benefits per-participant for the first fifty years beyond the initial investment in the program. We present these cash flows in non-discounted dollars to simplify the “break-even” point from a budgeting perspective. If the dollars are negative (bars below $0 line), the cumulative benefits do not outweigh the cost of the program up to that point in time. The program breaks even when the dollars reach $0. At this point, the total benefits to participants, taxpayers, and others, are equal to the cost of the program. If the dollars are above $0, the benefits of the program exceed the initial investment.

Meta-analysis is a statistical method to combine the results from separate studies on a program, policy, or topic in order to estimate its effect on an outcome. WSIPP systematically evaluates all credible evaluations we can locate on each topic. The outcomes measured are the types of program impacts that were measured in the research literature (for example, crime or educational attainment). Treatment N represents the total number of individuals or units in the treatment group across the included studies.

An effect size (ES) is a standard metric that summarizes the degree to which a program or policy affects a measured outcome. If the effect size is positive, the outcome increases. If the effect size is negative, the outcome decreases.

Adjusted effect sizes are used to calculate the benefits from our benefit cost model. WSIPP may adjust effect sizes based on methodological characteristics of the study. For example, we may adjust effect sizes when a study has a weak research design or when the program developer is involved in the research. The magnitude of these adjustments varies depending on the topic area.

WSIPP may also adjust the second ES measurement. Research shows the magnitude of some effect sizes decrease over time. For those effect sizes, we estimate outcome-based adjustments which we apply between the first time ES is estimated and the second time ES is estimated. We also report the unadjusted effect size to show the effect sizes before any adjustments have been made. More details about these adjustments can be found in our Technical Documentation.

Meta-Analysis of Program Effects
Outcomes measured Treatment age No. of effect sizes Treatment N Adjusted effect sizes(ES) and standard errors(SE) used in the benefit - cost analysis Unadjusted effect size (random effects model)
First time ES is estimated Second time ES is estimated
ES SE Age ES SE Age ES p-value
Crime 15 18 5638 -0.031 0.029 17 -0.031 0.029 27 -0.071 0.085

Citations Used in the Meta-Analysis

Baron, R., Feeney, F., Thornton, W. (1973). Preventing delinquency through diversion: The Sacramento County 601 diversion project. Federal Probation, 37(1), 13-18.

Cannon, A., & Stanford, R.M. (1981). Evaluation of the juvenile alternative services project. Tallahassee, FL: Office of Children, Youth and Families.

Crofoot, J.A. (1987). A juvenile diversion program's effectiveness with varying levels of offender severity. Doctoral dissertation, United State International University. Dissertation Abstracts International No. 8713047.

Davidson, W.S., & Basta, J. (1989). Diversion from the juvenile justice system: research evidence and a discussion of issues. Advances in clinical child psychology, 12, 85-111.

Dunford, F.W., Osgood, D.W, & Weichselbaum, H.F. (1982). National evaluation of diversion projects, Final Report. U.S. Department of Justice.

Howard, W.L. (1997). The effects of tutoring, counseling and mentoring on altering the behavior of African American males in a juvenile diversion program. Dissertation: UMI 9717719.

Kelley, T.M., Schulman, J.L., Lynch, K. (1976). Decentralized intake and diversion: the juvenile court's link to the youth service bureau. Juvenile Justice, 27(1), 3-11.

Koch, J.R. (1986). Community service and outright release as alternatives to juvenile court: An experimental evaluation (Doctoral dissertation, Michigan State University, 1985). Dissertation Abstracts International, 46(07), 2081A. (University Microfilms No. 85-20537).

Lipsey, M.W., Cordray, D.S., & Berger, D.E. (1981). Evaluation of a juvenile diversion program using multiple lines of evidence. Evaluation Review, 5(3), 283-306.

Palmer, T., & Lewis, R.V. (1980). An evaluation of juvenile diversion. Cambridge: Oelgeschlager, Gunn & Hain.

Quay, H.C., & Love, C.T. (1977). The effect of a juvenile diversion program on rearrests. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 4, 377-396.

Severy, L.J., & Whitaker, J.M. (1982). Juvenile diversion: An experimental analysis of effectiveness. Evaluation Review, 6(6), 753-774.

Sherman, L.W., Strang, H., & Woods, D.J. (2000). Recidivism patterns in the Canberra Reintegrative Shaming Experiments (RISE). Canberra, ACT: Australian National University, Research School of Social Sciences, Centre for Restorative Justice.

Stratton, J.G. (1975). Effects of crisis intervention counseling on predelinquent and misdemeanor juvenile offenders. Juvenile Justice, 26(4), 7-18.