At the American Bar Association’s Mid-Year meeting, the delegates adopted Resolution 107B, which urges governments to support the creation of programs that divert alleged juvenile offenders into alternative dispute resolution systems. These systems, including peer courts, victim-offender mediation, restorative justice conferences, truancy mediation, and community mentoring/service, not only work to keep youth out of jails, but can also prevent juvenile records, which impact future educational and employment opportunities, from developing.
“Restorative justice,” the term often used to describe these processes, is, according to the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, “a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders.”
The ABA resolution asserts that restorative justice should not be limited to one-time offenders, as restorative practices can reshape lives regardless of how many encounters with the court system a teen may have had. Stephan Campagna, a teen who benefited from a youth court program in Florida, was accused of 27 felonies. After being “sentenced” to 150 hours of community service and 18 youth court jury duties, he realized he had a choice about how he wanted to live his life. He’s now a law student starting a youth court in Nassau County, New York.
Benefits to diversion programs go beyond the direct impact on youth. Youth courts save states money and reduce recidivism rates by much higher percentages than traditional juvenile courts. About 1,050 youth court programs exist throughout the U.S.
The ABA resolution recommends that courts especially support these programs by referring juvenile cases directly to alternative systems. This is especially important since court-connected youth diversion programs only account for 42% of all youth diversion programs. The resolution also recommends that governments support (I assume financially) research and evaluation of these programs, an important aspect of program design. See more about alternative dispute resolution systems designed for youth here, then search under case type “juvenile.”