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Program Profile: Adolescent Diversion Project (Michigan State University)

Evidence Rating: Effective - More than one study Effective - More than one study

Date: This profile was posted on November 19, 2013

Program Summary

A strengths-based, advocacy oriented program that diverts arrested youth from formal processing in the juvenile justice system and provides them community-based services. This program is rated Effective. The program was associated with a significant reduction in the rates of official delinquency of participating juveniles as compared to juveniles formally processed in the system. However, the program did not significantly affect youths’ self-reported delinquency.

This program’s rating is based on evidence that includes at least one high-quality randomized controlled trial.

Program Description

Program Goals
The Adolescent Diversion Project (ADP) is a strengths-based, university-led program that diverts arrested youth from formal processing in the juvenile justice system and provides them with community-based services. Based upon a combination of theoretical perspectives, the goal of the ADP is to prevent future delinquency by strengthening youth’s attachment to family and other prosocial individuals, increasing youth’s access to resources in the community, and keeping youth from potentially stigmatizing social contexts (such as the juvenile justice system).

The program began in 1976, through a collaboration among Michigan State University, personnel from the Ingham County (Mich.) Juvenile Court, and members of the community in response to a rise in juvenile crime and the need for cost-saving alternatives to the formal processing of juveniles.

Program Theory
The conceptual framework of the ADP involves three theoretical perspectives: social control and bonding, social learning, and social-interactionist theories. Social control theory emphasizes the importance of social bonds in preventing delinquent behavior (Hirschi 1969). Social learning theory suggests that delinquency is learned through interactions with family, peers, and others (Aker 1990). Finally, social-interactionist theory suggests that it is the labeling of behavior as delinquent that results in further social interactions that intentionally or unintentionally label youth as delinquent (Shur 1973).

Key Personnel
The ADP is run by the Psychology Department at Michigan State University. Undergraduate psychology students participate in a two-semester course in which they receive training in diversion work and carry out 8 hours per week of community-based structured mentoring. The student volunteers are trained for 8 weeks in specific behavioral intervention techniques and advocacy, followed by 18 weeks of intensive supervision while they work with juveniles referred by the Intake Division of the Ingham County Juvenile Court.

Program Components
The ADP focuses on creating an alternative to juvenile court processing within a strengths-based, advocacy framework. During the 18-week intervention, the caseworkers (i.e., student volunteers) spend 6–8 hours per week with the juveniles in their home, school, and community. The caseworkers work one-on-one with juveniles in order to provide them with services tailored to their specific needs. Caseworkers focus on improving juveniles’ skills in several areas, including family relationships, school issues, employment, and free-time activities. For example, caseworkers teach youth about resources available in the community so that juveniles can access these resources on their own once the program is over.

The first 12 weeks of services are called the active phase, and case workers spend time each week with juveniles while providing direct assistance in behavioral contracting and advocacy efforts. During the last four weeks of services, called the follow-up phase, case workers spend a little less time each week assisting juveniles in those same areas, but their role is that of a consultant, preparing juveniles to use the techniques and strategies they’ve learned following the end of the program.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Self-Reported Delinquency
Davidson and colleagues (1987) found there were no significant differences between any of the treatment conditions and the control conditions on measures of self-reported delinquency.

Official Delinquency
There were significant differences in rates of official delinquency, as measured by court petitions. The summed recidivism rate of the action condition (AC, which is based upon the Adolescent Diversion Project [ADP] model), relationship condition (RC), and action condition-family focus (ACFF) groups were significantly lower than the summed recidivism rate of the attention placebo control (APC), action condition-court setting (ACCS), and control condition (CC) groups. The summed recidivism rate of the AC, RC, and ACFF groups was also significantly lower when compared with the CC group.

In addition, when examined individually, the AC group had a significantly lower recidivism rate compared with the CC group. The RC group also had a significantly lower recidivism rate compared with the CC group. Although the ACFF group had a lower recidivism rate than the CC group, the difference was not statistically significant. Overall, the results suggest that juveniles assigned to conditions that used a specific treatment model (AC, RC, and ACFF) did better than juveniles formally processed through the system.

Study 2
Self-Reported Delinquency
Similar to the previous study, Smith and colleagues (2004) found there was no significant differences in self-reported delinquency among youth who were diverted with services (ADP), youth who were diverted without services (warn and release), and youth who received treatment-as-usual (juvenile justice processing).

Official Delinquency
There were significant differences in rates of official delinquency. At the 1-year follow-up, diverted youth who received services through ADP had a 22 percent recidivism rate, compared to a 32 percent recidivism rate for diverted youth who received no services and a 34 percent recidivism rate for youth who went through traditional court processing.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Davidson and colleagues (1987) conducted an early evaluation of the Adolescent Diversion Project (ADP) in a medium-sized industrial Midwestern city from the fall of 1976 through the spring of 1980. The study was designed to examine the effects of various intervention components of the program. There were 228 juveniles referred to the project (although eight refused to participate). The sample was 83 percent male and 26 percent were minorities, with an average age of 14.2 years. Participants had been charged with a wide variety of crime, including person, property, and status offenses. The most common crimes were larceny (34 percent) and breaking and entering (24 percent). Juveniles were referred from the local juvenile court following a preliminary hearing. Juveniles were randomly assigned to one of six conditions: action condition (AC); action condition-family focused (ACFF); action condition-court setting (ACCS); relationship condition (RC); attention placebo condition (APC); and control condition (CC). There were no significant baseline differences among the groups on demographics and prior records of arrest, court petitions, and self-report delinquency.

Juveniles in all of the treatment conditions, except for the CC, were provided with one-on-one services from volunteer college students. Services occurred in the juvenile’s natural environment. The AC (n=76), implemented in all 5 years of the study, provided a broad intervention based on behavioral contracting and child advocacy, therefore juveniles, parents, and significant others were involved in the intervention. The ACFF (n=24), implemented in the 4th and 5th year of the study, was identical to the AC, except that only juveniles, parents, and siblings were involved. The ACCS (n=12), implemented during the 5th year of the study, was also identical to the AC except the college students were supervised by a member of the court staff at the court. In the RC (n=12), implemented during the 3rd year, only the juveniles were involved in the intervention. The APC (n=29), also implemented during the 3rd year, was not based on a prescribed model; rather, college students relied on their natural helping skills. Finally, the juveniles in the CC (n=60), implemented each year of the study, were returned to court.

The primary outcome of interest was delinquency. Data on official delinquency was collected through adult and juvenile police records of 14 law enforcement agencies, in addition to data from the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN), which was used to search on a statewide basis for outstanding warrants. Official delinquency data was collected for 1 year prior to the referral and for 2 years after the intervention. The data included the number of alleged offenses, seriousness of alleged offense, and offense disposition. For self-report delinquency, a 29-item measure was administered to juveniles at intake and at 1 and 2 years after the intervention. Univariate chi-square analysis and analysis of variance (ANOVA) were used to examine the data.

Study 2
Smith and colleagues (2004) evaluated the effectiveness of the program when it was replicated in an urban environment. A total of 395 youths were referred to the program. The sample was 84 percent male, with an average age of 14 years. The youths were 91 percent African American, and the majority (65 percent) had been referred for property-related offenses (such as breaking and entering, larceny, and auto theft). Youth were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: diversion with services (ADP); diversion without services (warn and release); or treatment-as-usual control (juvenile justice processing). There were no significant baseline differences among the groups, except for socioeconomic status.

Youths in the diversion with services condition (n=137) received services through the ADP. Youths in the diversion without services condition (n=134) were returned to their parents with no further program or court contact. All referring charges were dismissed. Youths in the treatment-as-usual control condition (n=124) were returned to the court’s jurisdiction for traditional processing which resulted in a petition to the juvenile court.

The primary outcome of interest was delinquency. Information on self-reported delinquency was collected from youth using a 29-item measure assessing illegal and delinquent behavior. Information on official delinquency was obtained from the records of 44 law enforcement jurisdictions, the juvenile court, and the LEIN. Data was collected on the number of police contacts, number of court petitions, seriousness of the offense, and disposition. The follow-up period was 12 months from the initial referral. Repeated measures analysis of variance was used to examine effects by time (pre, post, and follow-up) and by condition (diversion with services, diversion without services, and court processing as usual).
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A cost analysis found that the Adolescent Diversion Project (ADP) costs approximately $1,020.83 per youth for an 18-week intervention, which includes overhead and administrative costs. In comparison, a local juvenile court spent $13,466 for the average youth served. In a typical year, ADP provides services to 144 youth and the county juvenile court system serves 375 youths. The difference in cost of serving 144 youths in ADP versus traditional juvenile court results in a savings of approximately $1,799,104 per year (Sturza and Williams 2006).
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Implementation Information

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Additional information about the Adolescent Diversion Project can be found at
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Davidson, William S., Robin Redner, Craig H. Blakely, James G. Ernshoff, and Christina M. Mitchell. 1987. “Diversion of Juvenile Offenders: An Experimental Comparison.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 55(1):68–75.

Study 2
Smith, Emilie Phillips, Angela M. Wolf, Dan M. Cantillon, Oseela Thomas, William S. Davison. 2004. “The Adolescent Diversion Project: 25 Years of Research on an Ecological Model of Intervention.” Prevention & Intervention in the Community 27(2):29–47.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Akers, Ronald L. 1990 “Rational Choice, Deterrence, and Social Learning Theory in Criminology: The Path Not Taken.” The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 81(3):653–76.

Angelique, Holly Lizotte, Thomas M. Reischl, and William S. Davidson. 2002. “Promoting Political Empowerment: Evaluation of an Intervention With University Students.” American Journal of Community Psychology 30(6):815–33.

Bauer, Michelle, Gilda Bordeaux, John Cole, William S. Davidson, Arnoldo Martinez, Christina Mitchell, and Dolly Singleton. 1980. “A Diversion Program for Juvenile Offenders: The Experience of Ingham County, Michigan.” Juvenile & Family Court Journal 31:53–62. (This study was reviewed but did not meet Crime Solutions' criteria for inclusion in the overall program rating.)

Davidson, William S. 2009. Michigan State University Adolescent Diversion Project. East Lansing, Mich.: Michigan State University.

Davidson, William S., Tiffeny R. Jimenz, Eyitayo Onifade, and Sean S. Hankins. 2010. “Student Experiences of the Adolescent Diversion Project: A Community-Based Exemplar in the Pedagogy of Service-Learning.” American Journal of Community Psychology 46:442–58.

Davidson, William S., Jodi Petersen, Sean Hankins, and Maureen Winslow. 2010. “Engaged Research in a University Setting: Results and Reflections on Three Decades of a Partnership to Improve Juvenile Justice.” Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 14(3):49–67.

Hirschi, Travis. 1969. Causes of Delinquency. Los Angeles, Calif.: University of California Press.

Michigan State University. 2013. “Ingham County Adolescent Diversion Project.” Accessed August 9, 2013.

Schur, Edwin. 1973. Radical Non-Intervention: Rethinking the Delinquency Problem. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Sturza, Marisa L., and William S. Davidson. 2006. “Issues Facing the Dissemination of Prevention Programs: Three Decades of Research on the Adolescent Diversion Project.” Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community 32:5–24.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Formal System Processing for Juveniles
The practice of using traditional juvenile justice system processing in lieu of alternative sanctions to deal with juvenile criminal cases. The practice is rated No Effects for reducing recidivism compared to the youth that were diverted from the system.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Juvenile Diversion Programs
An intervention strategy that redirects youths away from formal processing in the juvenile justice system, while still holding them accountable for their actions. The practice is rated Promising for reducing recidivism rates of juveniles who participated in diversion programming compared with juveniles who were formally processed in the justice system.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
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Program Snapshot

Age: 13 - 15

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, White, Other

Geography: Suburban, Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting

Program Type: Conflict Resolution/Interpersonal Skills, Diversion, Mentoring, Wraparound/Case Management

Targeted Population: Young Offenders

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide

Program Developer:
William S. Davidson
University Distinguished Professor
Michigan State Diversion Program
317 Physics Road, 132 Psychology Building
East Lansing MI 48824–1116
Phone: 517.353.5015
Fax: 517.432.2476