study also found that other factors, including the type of counsel, were more strongly associated with placement outcomes than the mere fact of being represented by counsel.

Juvenile courts processed nearly 1.8 million criminal delinquency cases5 and 162,000 status offense delinquency cases in 1996 (Stahl et al., 1999). Figures 5-2 and 5-3 show how criminal and status delinquency cases, respectively, were handled by the courts in 1996, the most recent year for which data are available. A total of 56 percent of the criminal delinquency cases that were referred to juvenile courts in 1996 were formally handled by the court (petitioned); that is, these cases appeared on the official court calendar in response to the filing of a petition, complaint, or other legal instrument. Over the past 10 years, there has been an increase in the percentage of cases (from 47 percent in 1986 to 56 percent in 1996) handled formally for all juveniles, regardless of age, race, or gender. Criminal delinquency cases involving older juveniles, males, and blacks, however, are more likely to be petitioned than those involving younger juveniles, females, and whites or other races, respectively (Stahl et al., 1999). Arguably, formal handling of cases can be considered more punitive than release or diversion to other systems. Therefore, the increase in formal handling of juveniles who come into contact with the police or who are referred to juvenile court may be interpreted as a system that is becoming more punitive.


Diversion covers a wide range of interventions that are alternatives to initial or continued formal processing in the system (Kammer et al., 1997). The idea behind diversion is that processing through the juvenile justice system may do more harm than good for some offenders (Lundman, 1993). First offenders or minor offenders may be diverted to an intervention at intake processing or prior to formal adjudication. Juveniles may be diverted from detention while awaiting adjudication and disposition. After adjudication, minors may be diverted from incarceration by being placed on probation or given some other sanction or intervention.

One concern that is often raised about diversion programs is that they may result in net widening which is “a phenomenon whereby a program is set up to divert youth away from an institutional placement or some other type of juvenile court disposition, but, instead, merely brings more youth into the juvenile justice system who previously would never have


“A case represents a youth processed by a juvenile court on a new referral regardless of the number of violations contained in the referral” (Sickmund et al., 1998:1).

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