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Keeping kids out of the court system through accountability and restorative justice

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The number of children arrested and incarcerated in the United States (U.S.) has declined over the past decade, largely due to shifts in policy and practice.

Juvenile court diversion programs have been one of the contributors to this decline. In this episode of The Power of Prevention podcast, guests Nicole Rodler, Juvenile Diversion Coordinator at the Rochester Police Department, and Diane Casale, New Hampshire (NH) Juvenile Court Diversion Network Program Coordinator, join host Christin D’Ovidio to take a look at juvenile court diversion in our state and the connection to prevention.

What is Juvenile Court Diversion?

Juvenile court diversion is an alternative approach to help youth who have committed delinquent acts and those harmed by their offenses, heal and repair from those actions. While it holds youth accountable, it also ensures they benefit from education and support services to improve their behavior and not end up in juvenile court.

 “This process actually repairs the harm to the victim or the community while working with the juvenile, building up their strength and identifying their weaknesses so future decision-making is stronger, and hopefully wiser,” Rodler said. “It’s a restorative process, healing the juvenile, versus a punitive system.” This approach makes sense because science tells us the human brain is developing until age 25.

Youth involved with the juvenile justice system often have mental health and/or substance use disorders (76%). Many youths in the juvenile justice system have a history of trauma and ensuing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders which are all correlated with later delinquency and/or involvement in the system. These typically affect their academic performance, behavior, and relationships with peers and adults. Additionally, significant racial and ethnic disparities are present at all stages in the juvenile justice process.

A Look at Juvenile Court Diversion in New Hampshire

“Juvenile diversion in New Hampshire works closely with the youth and their families to assess what is happening with the youth that may be contributing to the behavior,” said Casale. “The program puts interventions in place to help prevent more encounters with the law. The program works closely to support the youth’s needs in all areas of their lives.” The chief goal is to address the factors that lead to poor decision-making in the first place and to keep the youth out of the court system.

“One of the things that we believe in diversion, is the earliest intervention you can possibly have with the youth is absolutely the best situation, the better chance you have of really making change,” said Casale.

There are 18 accredited juvenile diversion programs throughout the state. Some are managed through the municipality, some through the local police department, and others through nonprofit organizations. Regardless of the form diversion takes, its goal is for young people to mature into adulthood without a record that can seriously damage their future opportunities for employment and higher education.

The earliest programs in NH began in the 1970s. Due to their success, they continue to grow around the state. There is now a NH State Law, Statute NH RSA169 Delinquent Children-B:10 Juvenile Diversion, that includes provisions for police and courts to refer first-time offenders for diversion services. The law states: I-a. Prior to filing a delinquency petition with the court, the arresting agency or prosecutor shall screen the petition for participation in diversion. However, the law is unfunded.

“Both guests agree the only downside of diversion programs is the lack of funding for them. “There’s no consistent, sustainable funding that’s provided to the diversion programs across the state. And that really is a challenge for many, many of the programs to keep their doors open,” said Rodler.

For more information about this and other topics, the series is available on StitcherApple PodcastsSpotify, and Google Podcast, or at The Partnership’s website. You can subscribe to the series wherever you listen.

About Nicole Rodler, BA
With over 25 years of experience working with youth, Nicole Rodler has overseen the juvenile court diversion program and program and prevention activities for the Rochester Police Department since 2009. Nicole is a certified instructor for NAMI’s Youth Mental Health First Aid and the Connect Recovery Support Group, a trainer for the Law Enforcement Against Drugs; as well as a Certified Recovery Support Worker. Nicole served as the NH Juvenile Court Diversion Network’s Board Chair from 2010-2022, representing the 18+ diversion programs around the state as the entry point into the NH Juvenile Justice System. Currently, she sits on the Board as the Prior-Board Chair Consultant. She also sits on the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Other Drugs- Opioid Task Force, the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Reform Commission, part of the NH Juvenile Probation Transformation team, and several local committees addressing substance misuse, homelessness and mental health. Nicole also trains around the state on current drug trends at the NH Police Academy for Prosecutors. Nicole earned her BA from SUNY Albany in Psychology and Criminal Justice with a concentration in juvenile studies and is pursuing her MA in Justice Studies.

About Diane Casale, CPS
As a Certified Prevention Specialist with 28 years of experience in the field of prevention, Diane Casale is a strong advocate for NH teens. Between 1994 -2020, she researched, developed, implemented, and ran the Greater Derry Juvenile Diversion program at the Upper Room. Then in 2021, she joined the New Hampshire Juvenile Court Diversion Network (NHJCD) as the program coordinator. In this position, she is able to ensure that diversion programs around the state adhere to rigorous accreditation and educational qualification when working with youth. Being a mother of two, grandmother to six, and great-grandmother of two, Diane has seen many aspects of teenage life and recognizes their resilience when fully supported by their families and communities.

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