An Investigation of Philadelphia’s Youth Aid Panel: A Community-based Diversion Program for First-time Youthful Offenders

Nina Chernoff and Bernardine Watson

Public/Private Ventures

This report shows that Philadelphia’s Youth Aid Panel (YAP) initiative, established by the city’s District Attorney’s Office to deal with first-time, low-level youthful offenders, “holds great promise.” The program, according to P/PV, is low-cost, deals with youth directly and “relatively” quickly, involves the judgment of local citizens, involves both punishment and guidance, and preliminary data indicate that it reduces recidivism.

YAP evolved from a law enacted in New Jersey in the 1950s that empowered panels of community members to deal with low-level juvenile offenders. Instead of going to court, juvenile offenders may face a panel of community volunteers who review the case, question the youth, and develop a contract intended to teach the youth a lesson and introduce him or her to positive activities or associations. By mid-2000 there were 27 such panels in Philadelphia.

The study found that YAP participants are disproportionately female and under 16 years old, and nonparticipants are disproportionately Hispanic and drug law violators. Seventy-one percent of those who accepted a YAP contract completed it and, in the 36-month period after their first arrests, only 29.9 percent of contract completers were rearrested – compared with 44.4 percent of nonparticipants. Though the report’s authors believe that YAP participation reduces recidivism, they acknowledge that outcome comparisons between the two groups cannot be completely accurate because those ineligible or who failed to meet participation requirements were considered “harder” cases. 12 pages. $5. Public/Private Ventures, Communications Department, 2005 Market St., Ste. 900, Philadelphia, PA 19103. (215) 557-4465. E-mail:


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