Edmonton police program to divert youth from justice system to be adopted permanently

·2 min read

Edmonton police are adopting a program that uses early intervention to keep youths from falling further into the criminal justice system.

The Diversion First program provides "comprehensive support while creating meaningful consequences that are educational," says a release from Edmonton Police Service.

The pilot program was launched out of the EPS West Division in 2018. It focused on youth between the ages of 12 and 17 who were first-time, non-violent offenders.

The service's community safety and well-being bureau expected 20 youths to access the program, but nearly 80 received support. The program is now offered city-wide and EPS says it is working with more than 250 participants.

The program exceeded expectations and was expanded at the recommendation of an external evaluator, said Sgt. Kendall Booth.

Edmonton Police Service/Zoom
Edmonton Police Service/Zoom

He called says the difference in youths who he has seen go through the program is remarkable.

"Regardless of the form diversion takes, its goal is to support youth as they navigate adolescence without jeopardizing their future as a result of negative consequences that can be associated with the criminal justice system," Booth said.

Booth explained that at the time of arrest, constables can refer youth to the program based on their discretion. When asked about bias training for Diversion First officers, he said that while no specific training was given, EPS is continually working to train their officers as a whole.

The Diversion First constables include members who have a demonstrated history of community and youth work, Booth said.

"Members are really willing and trying to do something different," he said. "The arrest, release, arrest cycle … it's frustrating for members as well."

Further expansion possible

The YMCA of Northern Alberta, along with other community organizations, create a unique plan for each youth involved.

"Youth diversion meets youth wherever they are at in their life emotionally, mentally and geographically," said Amanda Thorpe, general manager of the YMCA's community and housing initiatives. "This ensures that every youth's unique circumstances are considered, which lays the foundation for achieving success."

She says the program could expand even further.

"At this point the program has not expanded to any of our other geographical regions," Thorpe said. "We're always looking for opportunities to work with youth and support them in other regions."

The YMCA of Northern Alberta also operates in Red Deer, Grande Prairie and in the Wood Buffalo region.