Prevention, Diversion, and Reentry: Effects of School and Juvenile Justice Policy Reforms
Youth who experience school suspension, arrest, or residential placement may also experience collateral consequences such as disengagement from school, weakened social bonds, and increased likelihood of future delinquency. Reforms to school and juvenile justice policies may help reduce youth contact with the juvenile justice system and minimize such consequences. Using quasi-experimental methods, I examine three policy interventions designed to address youth needs at different stages: prevention, diversion, and reentry. First, since food insecurity can cause chronic stress and misbehavior in school, expanding access to free school meals may improve student behavior. I find that schools that began offering universal free school meals through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) increased student participation in school meals, particularly in schools where fewer students were eligible for free meals prior to CEP. In elementary schools, offering free meals to the whole school decreased the proportion of students with behavioral incidents and the average number of incidents per student, but had no discernible effect on suspensions. Second, I examine a program designed to divert students from school-based arrest and instead refer them to voluntary services. Using contemporary and historical comparison groups, I find no effect of diversion on risk for recidivism arrest within the same school year (i.e., a follow-up period of up to 8.5 months) across the first five years of program operation. However, diversion reduced risk for recidivism arrest within the same school year for students diverted in the fourth and fifth years of the program. Finally, I examine reforms to aftercare programs designed to support youth exiting residential placement and re-entering the community. I compare changes in recidivism in five Pennsylvania counties that piloted aftercare reforms to recidivism in counties that did not and find no discernible effect of the reforms on recidivism. Collectively, these findings add to knowledge of the effects of school and juvenile justice reforms designed to support positive behavior and prevent deeper involvement in the justice system.