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Guide to Developing Pre-Adjudication Diversion Policy and Practice in Pennsylvania

Published Sep 1, 2010, Diversion Subcommittee of the Mental Health/Juvenile Justice state work group of the Models for Change Initiative in Pennsylvania

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In 2006, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania issued a Mental Health/Juvenile Justice Joint Policy Statement (the “Joint Policy Statement”)1 as a blueprint for creating a model system that responds appropriately to youth with mental health needs who may or do become involved in the juvenile court. The Joint Policy Statement, promulgated as part of Pennsylvania’s participation in the Models for Change systems reform initiative, sets out a vision of a comprehensive model system that: (1) prevents the unnecessary involvement of youth who are in need of mental health treatment, including those with co-occurring substance abuse disorders, in the juvenile justice system; (2) allows for the early identification of youth in the system with mental health needs and co-occurring disorders; and (3) provides for timely access by identified youth in the system to appropriate treatment within the least restrictive setting that is consistent with public safety needs.

A key component of the Joint Policy Statement’s vision of a model system is pre-adjudication diversion2 – providing opportunities for youth who would otherwise face formal processing in the court system to avoid an adjudication of delinquency or conviction for a summary offense and instead directing them into an alternative program, including treatment when appropriate. The Diversion Subcommittee of the state Mental Health/Juvenile Justice work group for the Models for Change initiative in Pennsylvania was formed with the mandate of implementing the Joint Policy Statement’s vision with respect to diversion. The Diversion Subcommittee developed a set of fundamental principles or values that should underpin any pre-adjudication diversion policy and protocol developed in Pennsylvania, whether at the state or county level. The Principles have been endorsed by many key stakeholders in the Commonwealth. (See Principles of Pre-Adjudication Diversion in Pennsylvania, Appendix A.) The Diversion Subcommittee also developed this "Guide to Developing Pre-Adjudication Diversion Policy and Practice" to assist counties in crafting county-specific pre-adjudication diversion policies and protocols to guide local practice.

The Principles and Guide were developed in direct response to two key findings of a survey conducted in 2007 of county juvenile justice stakeholders, including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and juvenile probation officers. First, although Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Act provides a statutory basis for diversion, most Pennsylvania counties currently do not have a formal written policy on diversion. Second, there is a need for statewide standards regarding diversion in order to ensure that diversion is made available to all eligible youth throughout the Commonwealth and is fairly administered. The Principles and Guide are provided as resources to assist counties in developing local policies and protocols that are consistent with the mandates of current law and best practice standards.

Diversion is both a process (i.e., providing alternatives to adjudications for alleged juvenile offenders) and a program (i.e., the services the youth receives in place of a formal adjudication). This Guide addresses both aspects of diversion, and stakeholders similarly should address both aspects as they craft their own diversion policies and protocols.

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Reform areas: Community-based alternatives, Mental health

States: Pennsylvania

Categories: Community-based alternatives/diversion

Tags: MFC

Uploaded Dec 1, 2011

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Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.