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In Nebraska, approximately 4,000 youth are referred to a juvenile diversion program annually. From 2012 to 2015, the majority of cases (87.0%) referred to juvenile diversion programs involved a law violation. Data from juvenile diversion programs indicates that Black youth are referred to diversion at twice the rate at which they appear in the population, whereas Asian and Native American youth are under-represented in juvenile diversion. Ideally we would examine how this compares to juveniles stopped by law enforcement for law violations, but this data is not consistently available in Nebraska. Without access to law enforcement stops, the underlying reasons for these patterns are unclear. To ensure equitable access to diversion, we recommend that Nebraska consistently collect data on law enforcement stops, referrals and citations. Of the cases referred to juvenile diversion, only 61% successfully divert out of the official court process. Failing to enroll in the program appears to be a primary obstacle. Once youth enroll in a program, their chances of success jump by eleven percentage points, to 72%. To encourage youth to divert out of the system, programs should examine the primary reason cited for failure to enroll. It is important to investigate the reasons that prevent youth and families from successfully enrolling in the local juvenile diversion program. The majority of the youth have only been referred to diversion one time (93.8%, n = 9,866). While some youth have been referred twice (5.9%, n = 619), three times (0.3%, n = 29), four times (0.1%, n = 3), and one youth was referred five times (0.1%, n = 1). Overall success rates for completing diversion varied across all counties and ranged from 50 to 100%, which may be attributed to the variation in the number of youth served within each county (i.e. counties that handle few cases), but may also reflect the programs and practices of the diversion program. To determine how effective diversion programming is at reducing subsequent offending, we examined law violations that occurred after the youth’s final time in diversion. Because many juvenile cases are sealed records, the Juvenile Justice Institute requested and received permission through the Nebraska Courts and the Nebraska Supreme Court, to ensure that we captured accurate information on new law violations. We examined rates of recidivism at three time periods: within 2-3 years post completion; within 1-2 years post completion and 6 months to 1 year post completion. Across all three time periods, rates of recidivism significantly differed by discharge reason. Specifically, youth who were successfully discharged from diversion were significantly less likely to recidivate than those who did not successfully complete the program. This was true whether the youth failed to complete the program because of a new law violation or failing to meet the program requirements. Overall, youth that completed diversion two to three years prior recidivated 30.2% of the time, which is consistent with a meta-analysis that found an average recidivism rate of 31.4% across 45 experiments with follow-up that ranged from 6 months to 36 months (Schwalbe et al., 2012). For youth who recidivated, on average that new law violation occurred almost a year post program completion. Our analysis revealed a range of effective diversion programs with variance by county. It is likely that outcomes for youth, including recidivism rates, are the result of programming and implementation quality. Throughout this report we included county-level results, so that programs can begin to analyze youth outcomes at the local level and work on strategies to improve program effectiveness.

Perhaps the most important finding is that Nebraska youth who complete a diversion program successfully are significantly less likely to recidivate at both 1-2 and 2-3 years post program completion. Research has been mixed on the effectiveness of juvenile diversion programs on recidivism. One meta-analysis of 28 studies by Schwalbe and colleagues (2012) did not find a significant difference in average recidivism rates for diverted youth (31.4%) and non-diverted youth (36.3%). On the other hand, another meta-analysis by Wilson and Hoge (2013) did find a significant difference in average recidivism rates for diverted youth (31.5%) and non-diverted youth (41.3%). There is evidence, however, that certain strategies within diversion are more effective than others. In our sample, only 27% of the youth had diversion requirements and activities information entered in to the Juvenile Case Management System (JCMS). The data that was provided is critical because it indicates that particular activities were significantly related to lower rates of recidivism: youth assigned community service, administrative requirements, having an individual assignment, a parental involvement requirement, and whether a mental health or substance evaluation or therapy was required. Overall, juvenile diversion programs in Nebraska are statistically more likely to reduce recidivism for the youth who enrolled in the programs than youth who did not enroll in the program. Although this is a noteworthy finding, it should be noted that this finding does not indicate that diversion programming caused a reduction in recidivism. It could be that youth who were more likely to enroll and complete the program are youth who would be less likely to recidivate regardless of the intervention. We note this and other limitations to this study in the limitations section. Future directions may include comparing juvenile diversion recidivism rates in Nebraska to other juvenile justice systems and programs (e.g., probation, detention, youth rehabilitation treatment centers, or other community-based programs). Currently, however, calculating recidivism is a lengthy process because JUSTICE does not have a way to connect people across cases. There is a need for unique identifiers within systems and across systems. Future directions may also include a randomized study with a control group. This would require juvenile diversion programs who are willing to randomly assign kids to diversion programs and either traditional court processing or an alternative-type programming. Following this report, we recommend that programs begin to accurately report all fields available in the JCMS so we can continue to evaluate programs in Nebraska and better understand what individual-level and program-level variables predict outcomes. Programs should consistently enter information such as risk assessment scores and other assessment scores. All diversion activities that the youth participates in should also be indicated so that we can begin to see what programming may be working better than others. Our hope is that programs will use the information outlined in this report as a learning tool for improving their programs and that this report will create conversation between programs on what appears to be working best for juvenile diversion programs in Nebraska.

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