April 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW3

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A Juvenile Diversion Alternative

The county agent received Ohio 4-H Foundation money to pilot a Juvenile Diversion Alternative. Ohio Extension offices that currently, or in the past, offered Juvenile Diversion programs were surveyed. The County Juvenile Judge asked Extension about programming available for first time offenders. A program was piloted in March, 1995, serving as one mediation level choice for juvenile court use. The five-session program was presented to 10 first-time offenders ages 11-15. Program planning, teaching, and evaluation was a collaboration of Ohio State Extension and Geauga County Juvenile Court staff. Strengths of the program include: an in-county-accessible program, hands-on approach, multi-agency and parent involvement, use of tested resources, including goal setting and evaluation.

R. Elaine Hitchcock
Extension Agent, 4-H/Youth Development
Ohio State University Extension
Geauga County Office
Burton, Ohio
Internet address: geau@agvax2.ag.ohio-state.edu

The County Juvenile Court utilizes community resources in resolving some juvenile complaints. Juvenile Rule 9(A) of the Ohio Revised Code provides that "in all appropriate cases formal court action should be avoided and other community resources utilized to ameliorate situations brought to the attention of the court". Consistent with the currently practiced philosophy of utilizing the least restrictive interventive mode and concurrent with the existing provisions of the Ohio Revised Code, the Geauga County Juvenile Court established a diversion program. The County Juvenile Court Judge asked Extension about programming available for first time juvenile offenders. The youth he sought to serve had not been adjudicated (processed through a formal court action) and would benefit from a community education source. The 4-H agent and court staff developed and implemented the "Diversion Challenge Program" in response.

The author was named as the project coordinator since 12 other Ohio counties had programs led by 4-H agents. The agent surveyed existing Ohio State University Extension juvenile diversion programs and gathered information from the Geauga County Court staff. The 10 surveys returned indicated that since no two county programs were alike, it was necessary to develop new curriculum for Geauga County.

This article describes the planning, implementation, and evaluations of the pilot project during the spring of 1995. The court intake officer referred ten 11-15 year old boys to the program. The youth were not subject to an official complaint and as a result did not generate a permanent court record.

The decision to divert is not a final one; matters initially referred to the Diversion Challenge Program can ultimately become a formal court action.

Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of the program was to serve as an alternative to the initiation of formal court proceedings and to resolve a juvenile complaint.

First time misdemeanor and unruly offenders as well as youthful offenders can experience effective interventive/preventive measures outside the courtroom setting, relying upon the family and the community for support and for resolving areas of concern. The Diversion Challenge Program served as one community resource court staff could use to resolve complaints. The program was intended to help youth develop the life skills: communication, organization, decision making, and service to the community in which youth live.


The agent and court staff agreed that a program offered by Ohio State University Extension could serve as one of the intake officers' referral alternatives. The 4-H agent received a $252 grant from the Ohio 4-H Foundation for development of a county diversion program.

The Court mission goals, the 10-county survey summary, the references "Pocket Condition of Education 1994" and "The Troubled Journey", and the 4-H agent served as the primary resources for the development of the 5-session/5-week Pilot Program. Five court staff, four guest speakers, two volunteers and one 4-H agent staffed the program.

The court intake officer referred ten 11-15 year old boys to the program and described the program to both the youth and their parents. The program involved 23.5 hours of youth participation which included: 12.5 hours of class time, 8 hours of community service, and a 3 hour project meeting. Class topics and activities included lessons on parliamentary procedure, an action socialization experience, a talk about making choices by a counselor, and a mock court held by the county public defender. The project selected was building and launching a model rocket. Parents were required to attend a half-hour meeting during program session 1 and a one-hour meeting at session 5.

Four methods of evaluation were utilized through a weekly written survey. One: The youth gave input. Two: The parents were asked to complete an evaluation at the end of the program. Three: Each court staff member and guest speakers involved in the program were interviewed by the 4-H agent. Four: Each youth set goals and reviewed criteria used for their program participation evaluation during the first session. Youth completed a self- evaluation during the last class. The Youth Evaluation instrument also provided a means for staff to give written recommendations to the youth and a copy was filed for the intake officer's reference at the Geauga County Juvenile Court.

The 4-H agent compiled evaluation results and forwarded them to the court staff. The agent and staff met; findings were discussed, and recommendations were made.


The class size of 10 males worked well. The size was small enough to allow individual attention and large enough for group activities. The intake officer expressed a need for more written information to use during initial contact with the youth and their parents.

Everyone involved in the project agreed that the number of hours required was excessive; however, session topics and education provided were satisfactory and appropriate. Utilization of fewer court staff was requested by the chief probation officer.

Future programs for youth referred to juvenile diversion required several modifications.


Programs should consist of a class size of 8-10 youth; males, females or combination of both, and target youth age 12-15 with a first time misdemeanor or unruly offense. Fund the program with a direct charge to parents and/or through contributions from a community organization (e.g. Rotary). Develop an information packet describing the program, assignments, and evaluations for use at the initial youth/parent contact at Juvenile Court. This will improve communications. Require youth to participate in a 10 -hour program that includes four 2-hour classes and 2 hours of community service. Parents should attend a one-hour meeting. Involve both county court and Extension staff as co-facilitators of the four session/10-hour program. Co-facilitators should request three guest speakers for class topics and activities. The purpose of the program is to serve as an alternative to the initiation of formal court proceedings. The program requires full participation. Satisfactory completion will resolve the juvenile complaint and no permanent court record will be generated. Offer several programs per year as determined by caseload demands.


Benson, Dr. Peter L. (1990). "The Troubled Journey." Minneapolis, Minnesota: Search Institute, 1-82.

National Center for Education Statistics (1994). "The Pocket Condition of Education 1994." Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Superintendent of Documents, 1-8.

Ohio Revised Code (1995). Juvenile Rule 9A. Cleveland, Ohio: Banks Baldwin Publishing Co., 677.