Diverting youth from criminal justice system goal of new program, Edmonton police commission hears

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Ninety-one per cent of youth involved in a nine-month program last year have been diverted away from crime with the help of a new city police strategy, the Edmonton Police Commission heard Thursday.

The DiversionFirst program first launched in 2018-2019 with pilot groups involving 98 youth aged 12 to 17 years old.

In order to join the program, the youth must have committed an offence where there was ground to lay a criminal charge. The youth and their parents must be willing to participate, and a non-violent offence related to the Youth Criminal Justice Act would have occurred, while the youth must have had limited involvement in the criminal justice system.

Once a youth is referred to the program, an officer is assigned to them and the youth is matched with community supports, including programs through the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters, based on their risks and needs, Sgt. Kendall Booth told commission.

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He said DiversionFirst uses a restorative justice approach.

“We look at addressing the accountability and we asked the question, ‘What happened to that youth?’ We also look at identifying the impact and the ripple effect their behaviours had on the community and we ask them, ‘Who do you think you’ve impacted by your behaviour?’” Booth said.

“Third, we look at highlighting their individual strengths and challenges, and we ask them, ‘Who are you?’ For youth, this an extremely difficult question so sometimes we rephrase by asking, ‘Where are you to your friends or who are you within your family?’”

Then, the program explores ways in repairing the harm by looking at community, self, family, and the victim, Booth said.

Following the pilot, DiversionFirst expanded in 2020, with 114 youth that were involved in a three-month program and 86 in a nine-month program.

A three-month pilot group in 2018-2019 saw that 88 per cent of the 98 youth involved did not reoffend, while the three-month program in 2020 involving 114 youth saw 95 per cent of them did not reoffend.

The nine-month pilot group saw that 79 per cent of the 98 youth involved did not reoffend while 91 per cent of the 86 youth in the nine-month program in 2020 did not reoffend.

Police are now looking at piloting a “mid-risk young offender program” within DiversionFirst. This may involve youth with three or more criminal charges, former involvement with court and those who may become or have become stuck in the criminal justice system.

They are also looking at expanding community partnerships to further address the complex needs of youth and their families.

“We find it’s not the youth, it’s the family unit as a whole that we need to support,” Booth said.

DiversionFirst is funded through Homeward Trust and Making the Shift.

ajunker@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/JunkerAnna

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