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In Youth Services, Net-Widening is the practice of opening up criteria for youth care so that more cases are brought under jurisdiction. In this scenario, a youth who is accused of a minor crime or other offense might not have been placed into Youth Services before the criteria were expanded. Youth Service Bureaus might attempt to net-widen in order to gain extra funding or promote their efficacy (non-criminal youths might leave their program and never get in trouble again, thus artificially inflating their success numbers).
In an article on criminology.fsu.edu, Thomas G. Blomberg argues that in the 1970s diversion programs contributed to the practice of net-widening:
In effect, diversion programs produced net-widening by selecting the major proportion of their clientele from a population previously not subjected to justice system insertion.
This article is very well researched but it is almost forty years out of date.
A more recent study from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (.pdf file) agrees with the earlier study, showing that:
...by doing nothing, the state can achieve a 70 percent success rate ... with first time offenders.
The reason for this is that 70% of youths who are arrested once are never arrested again; avoiding the initial arrest would have no effect on their recidivism rate because they are unlikely to act criminally again.
While it is hard to prove that Youth Services always net-widen, there are cases where similar practices have taken place. In 2008, two judges pleaded guilty to accepting money from the owner of two for-profit juvenile facilities in exchange for harsher sentencing, thus ensuring a large clientele and larger profits for the owners.
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