Adverse Childhood Experiences, Probation, and Informal Diversion in New Mexico’s Juvenile System

By Divya Shiv, MPP, Research and Policy Analyst
Download the full report (July 2022; 24 pages; pdf)


This report was created in partnership with Keshet and is supported by the McCune Charitable Foundation via the New Mexico Collaborative Zone Grant. We also acknowledge the research contributions of Laurel Butler, M.A., Antioch University Doctoral Candidate in Social Justice Leadership for Educational and Professional Practice. 


New Mexico’s future is brightest when all of its youth have access to the support and resources they need to lead healthy, happy lives. Yet many youth within the state’s juvenile system face challenges that prevent them from achieving their full potential, which harms their own well-being as well as the welfare of their community and the state.

One such challenge is that a large proportion of systems-involved youth have experienced multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that negatively impact their health and future well-being. However, the surveillance-oriented nature of the juvenile system does not adequately help youth process and heal from these adverse experiences. Without the resources to build resiliency and move towards positive youth development, youth are more likely to become chronically systems-involved, making it more difficult for them to reintegrate into their communities.

In addition, while probation is a common outcome for systems-involved youth, it does not provide them with the resources to successfully exit the juvenile system. In fact, probation often leads to worsened outcomes and higher reoffending rates. In New Mexico, youth placed in probation are 25% more likely to recidivate after three years compared to their counterparts who are not placed on probation. Youth placed on probation are not set up to succeed, as evidenced by the fact that probation can be an entryway into chronic systems-involvement.

Nevertheless, the state’s juvenile system already possesses a solution to these challenges: informal diversions. Early in the legal process, juvenile officials have the ability to divert youth out of the formal court process towards alternative community-based programming. Diversionary programs can include mentorship programs, mental health treatment, and restorative justice interventions, and they are especially helpful for youth who have experienced a high rate of ACEs because they typically foster positive youth development to mitigate the negative effects of ACEs. These alternative programs can also disrupt the cycle of systems-involvement that many youth on probation find themselves in, especially since youth who commit probation violations in New Mexico are rarely diverted out of the system. Diversionary programs provide tailored interventions to the needs of each youth, moving away from punitive measures and towards rehabilitation.

Arts-based programs are uniquely suited as diversionary programs because of their ability to help youth express emotions, learn socio-emotional skills, and move towards healthy, positive development. The juvenile system is costly to fund, but diversionary art programs are cost-effective solutions to improve public safety and address the needs of systems-involved youth. New Mexico thrives when its youth thrive, and diversionary art programs provide the essential building blocks for systems-impacted youth to heal, grow, and flourish.

Download the full report (July 2022; 24 pages; pdf)