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Diversion, no services (vs. traditional juvenile court processing)

Juvenile Justice
Benefit-cost methods last updated December 2023.  Literature review updated May 2019.
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Diversion is an alternative to formal sanctions or processing in the juvenile justice system. The goals of diversion are to alleviate the negative consequences associated with the juvenile justice system (e.g., stigmatizing youth as deviant) and to maintain a youth’s pro-social ties in the community. Diversion programs included in this meta-analysis vary in their structure. Some programs divert youth at the initial stages of the juvenile justice system (e.g., diverted by law enforcement upon arrest), while others divert youth once they reach the juvenile courts (e.g., pre-charge). In place of formal sanctions or processing, youth agree to be counseled, warned, and released back into the community. Once a youth completes a probationary period without further recidivism, their initial offense is dismissed, sealed, or not processed further into the justice system.

This analysis compares diversion programs where diverted youth do not receive any services and do not have any formal contact following their diversion to youth traditionally processed in the juvenile justice system. These diversion programs target youth with no previous criminal history or with non-violent misdemeanor/felony offenses. In the studies in our analysis that reported demographic information, 60% of the diverted sample were youth of color and 18% were female.

Diversion programs with services compared to youth warned and released (i.e., simple release) and diversion programs with services compared to traditional juvenile court processing are excluded from this analysis and analyzed separately.

Key Terms

Court-involved youth: Youth who are processed through the juvenile justice system but who are not ordered to a period of confinement in a residential or correctional facility. This includes populations of arrested youth, diverted youth, charged youth, adjudicated youth, and youth on probation or formal supervision.

Youth in state institutions: Youth who are confined in a residential or correctional facility when they participate in the program.

Youth post-release: Youth who are returning to the community following a period of confinement in a residential or correctional facility and who participate in the program after release to the community.

For an overview of WSIPP's Benefit-Cost Model, please see this guide. The estimates shown are present value, life cycle benefits and costs. All dollars are expressed in the base year chosen for this analysis (2022). 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 $2,248 Benefits minus costs $11,219
Participants $693 Benefit to cost ratio n/a
Others $4,627 Chance the program will produce
Indirect $1,852 benefits greater than the costs 99%
Total benefits $9,420
Net program cost $1,799
Benefits minus cost $11,219

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. See Estimating Program Effects Using Effect Sizes for additional information.

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
15 8 1520 -0.138 0.075 16 -0.138 0.075 24 -0.138 0.065
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
Affected outcome: Resulting benefits:1 Benefits accrue to:
Taxpayers Participants Others2 Indirect3 Total
Crime Criminal justice system $1,980 $0 $4,216 $990 $7,186
Labor market earnings associated with high school graduation $343 $807 $446 $0 $1,596
Costs of higher education ($75) ($114) ($34) ($38) ($261)
Program cost Adjustment for deadweight cost of program $0 $0 $0 $900 $900
Totals $2,248 $693 $4,627 $1,852 $9,420
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Detailed Annual Cost Estimates Per Participant
Annual cost Year dollars Summary
Program costs $0 2016 Present value of net program costs (in 2022 dollars) $1,799
Comparison costs $1,510 2015 Cost range (+ or -) 20%
In this program, youth do not receive any formal processing (e.g., formal court processing or formal supervision) nor any referrals to community programming after a warning and release to their parents/guardian’s custody. We, therefore, estimate the per-participant cost for this program to be $0. We calculate the comparison group cost, traditional juvenile court processing, using the cost of court processing for misdemeanor offenses and the average length of stay for youth on juvenile local supervision, multiplied by the annual marginal cost of juvenile local supervision from Section 4.2 of Washington State Institute for Public Policy. (December 2018). Benefit-cost technical documentation. Olympia, WA: Author.
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.
Benefits Minus Costs
Benefits by Perspective
Taxpayer Benefits by Source of Value
Benefits Minus Costs Over Time (Cumulative 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 discounted dollars. 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.

Citations Used in the Meta-Analysis

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

Klein, M.W. (1986). Labeling theory and delinquency policy: an experimental test. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 13(1) 47-79.

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).

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

Smith, E.P., Wolf, A.M., Cantillon, D.M., Thomas, O., & Davidson, W.S. (2004). The adolescent diversion project: 25 years of research on an ecological model of intervention. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community, 27(2), 29-47.