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Reducing Youth Arrests: Prevention and Pre-Arrest Diversion

[Download the PDF of the Policy Platform here]
[Download the Infographic of the Policy Platform here - PDF Version, PNG Version]


January 14, 2020

Courtney McSwain

NJJN Calls for Greater Investment in Arrest Prevention 

and Pre-Arrest Diversion Policies to Keep Youth 

Out of The Justice System


(Washington, D.C.)— One week before the United States celebrates the social justice legacy of
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) is calling for a national commitment to keep youth out of handcuffs and instead support their positive development. “Reducing Youth Arrests: Prevention and Pre-arrest Diversion” is NJJN’s latest policy platform, and it provides recommendations to direct youth – especially overrepresented youth of color, youth with disabilities and LGBTQ/gender-nonconforming youth – away from the justice system pipeline. The platform's recommendations were informed by NJJN membership and young leaders working to transform local youth justice system policies.

“As we prepare to celebrate MLK Day and honor one of the world’s most enduring voices on social justice and civil rights, we must stop disregarding certain communities of youth as irredeemable or undeserving of the opportunity to live up to their full potential,” says Ricky Watson, Executive Director of NJJN. “All over the country, young people are rising up and telling us what they need to thrive, and we must listen to them. True youth justice is holistic and starts with giving young people what they need to chart a path for success, not shuffling them into a pipeline of arrests that can stigmatize them for a lifetime.”

Young people recognize, and overwhelming evidence shows, that punitive approaches to youth welfare do not work in mitigating risky youth behaviors or improving public safety. On the contrary, youth caught up in the justice system experience significant mental trauma, physical harm and stigmatization, which only increases their chance of further system involvement. The damage is doubly harmful to youth of color, youth with disabilities and LGBTQ/gender-nonconforming youth who are overrepresented in the justice system and daily confront the toxic exposures of institutional racism, discrimination and bias. 

A better approach to keeping youth – especially those from marginalized and highly policed communities – from entering the justice system includes resourcing communities to:  

1)     Provide healthy living and school environments for children and families;

2)     Provide guidance and mentoring for youth;

3)     Develop policies to reduce police contact;

4)     Divert youth who come in contact with the police out of the justice system prior to arrest; and

5)     Ensure youth have access to community-based services and programs that can offer healing for the underlying hardships they may be experiencing.

“As our youth told us, ‘The first question that should be asked when a kid gets in trouble is why – and then they should get support around the why.’ This is what a good pre-arrest diversion program can provide,” says Melissa Coretz Goemann, NJJN Senior Policy Counsel. 

Young leaders also emphasized the need to help youth navigate their highly stressful living environments with more school counselors, training for students and teachers to implement restorative justice practices, and more mental health resources.

Visit www.njjn.org to read NJJN's full policy platform: "Reducing Youth Arrests: Prevention and Pre-arrest Diversion," and download the accompanying infographic.


The National Juvenile Justice Network leads a membership community of 54 state-based organizations and numerous individuals across 44 states and D.C. We all seek to shrink our youth justice systems and transform the remainder into systems that treat youth and families with dignity and humanity. Our work is premised on the fundamental understanding that our youth justice systems are inextricably bound with the systemic and structural racism that defines our society; as such we seek to change policy and practice through an anti-racist lens by building power with those who are most negatively affected by our justice systems, including young people, their families and all people of color. We also recognize that other vulnerable populations - including LGBTQIA+, those with disabilities and mental illness, girls and immigrants - are disparately and negatively impacted by our justice systems, and thus we also seek to center their concerns in our policy change work.

For more information, visit www.njjn.org.