Founded in 2016 by The Chase Home, the Seacoast Community Diversion Program (SCDP) diverts first-time youth offenders from the traditional juvenile justice system. Based on Restorative Justice-based principles, SCDP differs from probation in its focus on the underlying problems of a youth’s criminalized behavior.
“Research is very clear that probation does not work,” said The Chase Home Executive Director Meme Wheeler, who said New Hampshire is currently engaged in a juvenile justice transformation. “We are currently moving toward a coaching versus refereeing role in working with youth involved in the juvenile justice system.”
This transformation is supported by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is working with the State to strengthen New Hampshire’s 17 Accredited Juvenile Court Diversion Programs of which SCDP is one. All Accredited Juvenile Court Diversion Programs in New Hampshire operate under the purview of the NH Juvenile Court Diversion Network.
“The Network is a wonderful advocate for diversion in the state,” added Wheeler.
Advocacy, according to SCDP Coordinator Hillary Hallinan, is especially needed now, as Restorative Justice and Diversion has initially not been included in the state’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget. She said the need for SCDP and other accredited diversion programs has increased due to the passage of Senate Bill 94.
“The bill enables police officers and juvenile probation and parole officers to refer youth to Accredited Juvenile Court Diversion Programs without going through law enforcement proceedings,” she said.
Regarding the case for diversion, Wheeler said current research shows it tends to reduce recidivism rates by a considerable margin.
“Diversion is significantly more effective than probation because it focuses on positive youth development and counseling,” she explained. “It’s a cognitive behavioral approach designed to help youth improve their problem solving, perspective taking, and self-control,” she said.
In looking to the future of Restorative Justice and Diversion for youth in New Hampshire, Wheeler said continued advocacy is key.
“Research is clear that diversion reduces youth involvement in local juvenile justice systems, which saves communities and municipalities significant money and resources,” she said. “We need the community to help us advocate for diversion.”
Founded in 1877, The Chase Home provides at-risk youth across the state with prevention, early intervention, residential, and community-based services. These services are offered both in the community and at The Chase Home where as many as a dozen youth live while receiving assistance.
To learn more about SCDP, visit seacoastcommunitydiversions.org.