Juvenile Diversion

Diversion can be defined as any program that allows a youth who commits an offense to be directed away from more formal juvenile justice system involvement. Diversion is considered an alternative response to arrest and/or prosecution in Juvenile Court.

In general, diversion programs can be divided into two categories:

  • Informal diversion can include any measure that turns youth away from the system, such as a police officer letting a youth go with a warning or a judge deciding to dismiss a case prior to arraignment. It may also include an agreement with a youth that they will take a specific action to atone for their behavior, such as writing an apology letter or performing community service.
  • Formal diversion typically takes the form of a specific, structured program with eligibility and completion requirements.

There is currently no Massachusetts statewide (formal or informal) diversion program. Instead, four separate decision-makers – police, clerk magistrates, district attorneys, and judges – may apply formal and informal diversion practices at various points, from initial contact with police to arraignment. There is almost no statutory guidance with regards to eligibility, diversion conditions, oversight, compliance, stakeholder engagement, external reporting or privacy concerns (with the exception of a list of charges eligible for diversion by judges as part of the 2018 Criminal Justice Reform Bill). There is no statutory guidance for law enforcement, court clerks or district attorneys regarding diversion.

In 2019, the Juvenile Justice Policy and Data (JJPAD) Board and its Community Based Interventions (CBI) Subcommittee studied diversion and community-based interventions across the state and nation, and compiled their findings and recommendations to the Legislature in a report: Improving Access to Diversion and Community-Based Interventions for Justice-Involved YouthThis report highlighted several key findings, including:

  • Diversion can be an effective intervention strategy
  • Juvenile justice stakeholders understand the importance of diversion, and more and more decision-makers are establishing diversion practices in their agencies
  • The current structure of Massachusetts’ diversion systems lacks standardization and likely contributes to systemic inequities
  • Juvenile justice stakeholders see distinct gaps in availability of community based interventions for justice-involved youth
  • More infrastructure support is needed to effectively connect youth with services that do exist and overcome barriers

Data on the use of juvenile diversion across Massachusetts is currently unavailable. However, some individual programs may chose to make data available. One example is the Middlesex District Attorney's Office, which provides information about their juvenile diversion program on their website. Additional data on the use of diversion programs in Massachusetts will be added to this website when it becomes available. 

In Fall 2021, the OCA and DYS launched a statewide diversion "learning lab" program to pilot a state-level diversion model. Data from this program will be added to this website in the future. 

Date published: November 2, 2020
Last updated: November 2, 2020