Objective: Research to establish an evidence-base for the treatment of conduct problems and delinquency in adolescence is well established; however, an evidence-base for interventions with offenders who are diverted from the juvenile justice system has yet to be synthesized. The purpose of this study was to conduct a meta-analysis of experimental studies testing juvenile diversion programs and to examine the moderating effect of program type and implementation quality.
Method: A literature search using PsycINFO, Web of Science, and the National Criminal Justice Reference Service data-bases and research institute websites yielded 28 eligible studies involving 57 experimental comparisons and 19,301 youths.
Results: Recidivism was the most common outcome reported across all studies. Overall, the effect of diversion programs on recidivism was non-significant (k=45, OR=0.83, 95%CI=0.43-1.58). Of the five program types identified, including case management (k=18, OR=0.78), individual treatment (k=11, OR=0.83), family treatment (k=4, OR=0.57), youth court (k=6, OR=0.93), and restorative justice (k=6, OR=0.87), only family treatment led to a statistically significant reduction in recidivism. Restorative justice studies that were implemented with active involvement of researchers led to statistically significant reductions in recidivism (k=3, OR=0.69). Other outcomes, including frequency of offending, truancy, and psycho-social problems were reported infrequently and were not subjected to meta-analysis.
Conclusions: High levels of heterogeneity characterize diversion research. Results of this study recommend against implementation of programs limited to case management and highlight the promise of family interventions and restorative justice.
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