Diversion Program

In July 1978 the Washington State Legislature passed a new Juvenile Justice Act. The new law revised many facets of the Juvenile Justice System. The one we are concerned with is what happens when a youth is charged with a minor offense. Instead of appearing formally before the Juvenile Court, the youth is "diverted" and seen by a Community Accountability Board.

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Juvenile Diversion Procedure (GIF)

Diversion Hearing & Agreement

The Diversion Unit will schedule a meeting with the juvenile offender and a Diversion Board. The board will advise him/her of his/her rights, discuss the nature of the crime and the surrounding circumstances. The Board will determine the appropriate consequences (penalty) for the juvenile offender and write the conditions of the penalty in the form of a contract known as the Diversion Agreement, which may include restitution to the victim for his/her losses, community service (volunteer work in a public or non-profit agency), fines, and/or a counseling, informational, or educational session. The juvenile is expected to fulfill the terms of the Diversion Agreement within the allotted time or the Diversion Unit will refer the case back to the prosecutor for formal court action. Under specified conditions, the juvenile may be counseled and released without further penalty.

Victim's Compensation & Civil Action

When a juvenile's crime has caused a financial loss to a victim, replacement of that loss (restitution) will normally be required by the Diversion Unit. The Diversion Unit will contact the victim to determine the amount of such loss and assess the juvenile's ability to pay. It will set the restitution amount based on these two considerations and determine a schedule for payment.

The Diversion Unit deals only with criminal charges; the victim retains the right to initiate civil court action for additional damages. In shoplifting cases, a special statute allows the victim store to sue the parents regardless of the actual loss.

Diversion & the Minor Juvenile Offender

The current Juvenile Code in Washington State went into effect on July 1, 1978. It provides for juveniles who commit crimes, runs away from home, or are abused or neglected.

Diversion involves handling minor cases outside of Juvenile Court in lieu of prosecution. It is the prosecuting attorney who decides whether or not a case is legally sufficient to be handled by Diversion. This depends on the type of offense and the number of times the youth has been handled by Diversion. Once a youth has committed more than one offense, he or she is usually considered ineligible for Diversion, and the case is referred to Juvenile court for disposition.

When a case is received by Diversion, paperwork is sent to the youth explaining the Diversion process and advice of rights. The youth may choose to: 

  • Accept Diversion
  • Refuse Diversion
  • Consult with an attorney (public defender or private attorney) 

Once a youth agrees to go through Diversion, he/she appears before an Accountability Board. If the youth refuses Diversion, the case will be sent back to the Prosecutor for review of charges in Juvenile Court. If a youth consults with an attorney, they must contact the Diversion Unit and advise the office of their decision.

Advantages of Diversion

Diversion is more convenient, less expensive, and less time-consuming than going to Juvenile Court. The Diversion Unit normally conducts its meetings in the evening or at a time that is convenient to the youth and his/her family. The Diversion process is confidential, unlike the court proceedings which are public. The Diversion Unit does not have the scheduling problems usually associated with the Court. Diversion is more protective and informal. The Diversion Agreement is not a conviction and only affects the youth's future if he/she comes back into the Juvenile Court System.

The purpose of the juvenile code is very clear: juvenile offenders must be held accountable for their illegal acts. It does recognize, however, that young people will make mistakes. It is for this reason that minor offenders are being diverted away from Juvenile Court and are required to be accountable to the community.