Data-Driven Deflection: A Systems Approach to Reducing Juvenile Arrests


Logan Seacrest
Resident Fellow, Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties

Key Points

Addressing delinquent behavior before it requires punitive measures avoids the negative downstream effects associated with an arrest. From a first principles perspective, one of the main benefits of deflection programs is this focus on early intervention, enabling benefits to compound over time. Think of it like fixing a leaky faucet before it breaks, instead of having to mop up a flooded house.

The best way to dismantle the school to prison pipeline is to keep students from entering the juvenile justice system entirely. Deflection programs connect at-risk youth with treatment and services that address the underlying causes of delinquency, while avoiding the negative outcomes associated with formal justice system involvement. Yet, only one-third of jurisdictions in the U.S. currently have a juvenile deflection program.

Despite its reputation as a solidly red state, Florida has among the most mature and successful statewide juvenile deflection initiatives in the country. Florida law requires local circuit courts to develop pre-arrest diversion programs, commonly called civil citations, for first time offenders that commit certain misdemeanors. Civil citations are akin to traffic tickets that never become part of a person’s criminal record if the terms of the citation are completed.

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If we want to help youth succeed, improve public safety, and save taxpayer money, avoiding youth arrest in the first place is the best solution.

Executive Summary

Over the past two decades, the United States has made significant strides in adopting evidence-based approaches to juvenile justice. However, America still has relatively high juvenile arrest rates, which are correlated with negative life outcomes. Pre-arrest diversion, also known as “deflection,” is a promising approach to reducing juvenile arrests. Juvenile deflection redirects young people away from the formal justice system at the earliest point of contact, avoiding the adverse consequences associated with an arrest. This policy paper evaluates the evidence supporting deflection, using case studies to highlight data collection techniques essential to success.

By sharing the successes and challenges from a variety of real deflection programs, this paper outlines the quantitative metrics necessary to enhance performance, processes and outcomes. Robust data collection has made Florida’s civil citation program one of the most successful deflection initiatives in the country, realizing millions in cost savings and reducing racial disparities. Another is the Cambridge Safety Net Collaborative, which uses data sharing agreements to foster multiagency cross-system cooperation, connect youth with services and reduce recidivism. Exploring how these and other programs leverage data provides juvenile justice professionals a roadmap to minimize youth contact with the justice system.