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Public Safety

New Juvenile Diversion Initiative Aims To Keep Youth Out Of Prison Pipeline

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan speaks at a press conference in front of the juvenile courthouse. May 20, 2021
Joe Hong
San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan speaks at a press conference in front of the juvenile courthouse. May 20, 2021

San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan on Thursday presented her office’s new Juvenile Diversion Initiative, which will divert young people away from criminal prosecution and into therapy and mentoring services.

Youth will have an opportunity to participate in the program before they’re charged with a crime. Anyone between the ages of 12 and 18 arrested for any misdemeanor or nonviolent felony will be eligible for the program, Stephan said.

New Juvenile Diversion Initiative Aims To Keep Youth Out Of Prison Pipeline
Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

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“It’s an early intervention program that prioritizes diversion and other options for youth, instead of filing criminal charges,” she said. “The program keeps them out of the courthouse and out of the juvenile justice system completely.”

Instead of being prosecuted, juveniles can participate in community service and restorative practices, such as meeting with victims in counseling sessions. The National Conflict Resolution Center will run those sessions once the initiative launches over the summer.

Youth Diversion Program Aims To Keep Youth Out Of Jail

“That means putting the youth in the center. They’re not going to be passive,” said Steven Dinkin, president of the National Conflict Resolution Center. “We’re going to ask them to participate and take ownership of the crime that they have committed.”

Youth would spend on average six months in the program. Stephan said her office will ensure that Black, Latinx and indigenous youth will get the services they need from professionals who understand their backgrounds.

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“This is why it is community based because then the community can come up with the solutions and the services that are culturally competent for the particular youth’s needs,” she said.

Stephan said the program will cost the county about $2 million each year. The District Attorney’s Office files about 1,900 criminal cases against youth each year. This new initiative is expected to divert about a quarter of those cases.