Evaluation of the Imact of a Policy Change on Diversion Program Recidivism and Justice Agency Costs: One Year Follow Up

Richard Dembo, University of South Florida
Jennifer Wareham, University of South Florida
James Schmeidler, Mount Sinai Medical School
Thomas Chirikos, University of South Florida

Recent Florida legislation changes have resulted in policy modifications reflecting a "get tough" approach to juvenile crime. In 2000, buget cuts by the Florida legislature eliminated oen of the state's primary community service oriented juvenile diversion programs, the Juvenile Alternative Services Program (JASP). JASP was subsequently replaced with other diversion programs, two of which (the Walker Plan and an expanded Arbitration Program) permitted greater penetration into the juvenile justice system. This event provided an opportunity for a natural experiment evaluating the impact of potential net-widening effects of these replacement programs compared to those with less justice system contact (JASP and two other diversion programs). In a first set of analyses, youth participant recidivism was examined based on new arrests and new arrest charges during an in-program period (from date of program enrollment to exit) and a six-month post program period; and the direct cost impact of the youths' recidivism on justice system agencies was estimated. Stepwise multiple regression analyses predicting diversion program recidivism rates, and direct justice system costs, for the six-month period found that youths place in the JASP program had significantly lower rates of enw arrests and new arrest charges, than the other four diversion programs. Further, the direct justice system costs of the youths' recidivism, resulting mainly from their incarceration, were much less for JASP than for the other diversion programs. These results suggested a potential net-widening effect for the JASP replacement programs. The present paper extends the recidivism and cost impact analyses to a 12 month post-program period. The results are expected to have important implications for theory and policy, which will be discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006