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Police-initiated diversion for youth to prevent future delinquent behavior: a systematic review

Wilson, David B.; Brennan, Iain; Olaghere, Ajima


David B. Wilson

Ajima Olaghere


Overly punitive responses to youth misconduct may have the unintended consequence of
increasing the likelihood of future delinquency; yet, overly lenient responses may fail to serve
as a corrective for the misbehavior. Police diversion schemes are a collection of strategies
police can apply as an alternative to court processing of youth. Police-initiated diversion
schemes aim to reduce reoffending by steering youth away from deeper penetration into the
criminal justice system and by providing an alternative intervention that can help youth
address psychosocial development or other needs that contribute to their problem behavior.
The objective of this review was to synthesize the evidence on the effectiveness of pre-court
interventions involving police warning or counseling and release, and cautioning schemes in
reducing delinquent behavior.
Search methods
A combination of 26 databases and websites were searched. References of relevant reviews
were also scanned to identify studies. We also consulted with experts in the field. Searches
were executed by two reviewers and conducted between August 2016 and January 2017.
Selection criteria
Only experimental and quasi-experimental designs were eligible for this review. All quasiexperimental
designs must have had a comparison group similar to the police diversion
intervention group with respect to demographic characteristics and prior involvement in
delinquent behavior (i.e., at similar risk for future delinquent behavior). Additionally, studies
must have included youth participants between 12 and 17 years of age who either underwent
traditional system processing or were diverted from court processing through a police-led
diversion program. Studies were also eligible if delinquency-related outcomes, including
official and non-official (self-report or third-party reporting) measures of delinquency were
Data collection and analysis
This study used meta-analysis to synthesize results across studies. This method involved
systematic coding of study features and conversion of study findings into effect sizes
reflecting the direction and magnitude of any police-led diversion effect. There were 19
independent evaluations across the 14 primary documents coded for this review. From this,
we coded 67 effect sizes of delinquent behavior post diversion across 31 diversion-traditional
processing comparisons. We analyzed these comparisons using two approaches. The first
approach selected a single effect size per comparison based on a decision rule and the second
used all 67 effect sizes, nesting these within comparison condition and evaluation design.
The general pattern of evidence is positive, suggesting that police-led diversion modestly
reduces future delinquent behavior of low-risk youth relative to traditional processing.
Authors’ conclusions
The findings from this systematic review support the use of police-led diversion for low-risk
youth with limited or no prior involvement with the juvenile justice system. Thus, police
departments and policy-makers should consider diversionary programs as part of the mix of
solutions for addressing youth crime.


Wilson, D. B., Brennan, I., & Olaghere, A. (2018). Police-initiated diversion for youth to prevent future delinquent behavior: a systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 14,

Journal Article Type Review
Acceptance Date Mar 1, 2018
Online Publication Date Jun 1, 2018
Publication Date Jun 1, 2018
Deposit Date Jan 28, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jan 28, 2019
Print ISSN 1891-1803
Volume 14
Keywords Crime and justice
Public URL
Publisher URL


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Copyright Statement
© Wilson et al.
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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