Expanding the Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program

Diana A. Millner Youth Justice Fellow: Kevin Bethel, 2016-2018

In May 2014, Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel -- in collaboration with leaders from major youth-serving agencies, including the School District of Philadelphia and the Department of Human Services -- launched the Police School Diversion Program to reduce juvenile arrest rates, improve school retention, and prevent the collateral consequences of justice system involvement.  The program targets students who have committed first-time, low-level delinquent acts on or about school premises by diverting them from arrest to Intensive Prevention Services provided to them and their families at no-cost.  The results from the first full year of implementation are impressive, demonstrating a 54% reduction in arrests (1,582 in 2013-2014 versus 724 in 2014-2015).  In addition, the rates of expulsion and disciplinary transfers that normally accompany these incidents dropped by approximately 75%. 

As the Foundation's first Diana A. Millner Youth Justice Fellow, Kevin is building on the program's early successes to promote broader implementation of the model.  His work is housed at the Juvenile Justice Research and Reform Lab within the Department of Psychology at Drexel University.  Dr. Naomi E. Goldstein, who is also a Stoneleigh Fellow, and her colleagues at the Lab have supported Bethel’s work on the program since its inception. The Lab is currently conducting an evaluation funded by the US Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the program’s effectiveness and its impact across the District, within individual schools, and for individual youth. 

During his three-year Fellowship, Kevin will pursue the following activities: 

1.) Sustaining and expanding the program locally:

  • Continue work on the existing diversion program by serving as an advisor to the Philadelphia Police Department on Juvenile Affairs, and working with collaborating partners to refine the program and ensure its integrity.
  • Create materials to inform principals and students about the collateral consequences of arrest and juvenile justice involvement, and facilitate trainings for Philadelphia Police Officers and School District Police Officers about conflict resolution and mediation.
  • Work with the Philadelphia Police Department to expand the diversion program beyond schools to include first-time offenders who have committed theft offenses in the community. 

2.) Working at the state level to encourage broader implementation:

  • Build on momentum created by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and its State Disproportionate Minority Contact Subcommittee to expand the diversion program to police departments and school districts across the state.
  • Develop trainings and materials to support statewide implementation and provide consultation directly to individual jurisdictions.
  • Inform state legislators about the success of the program and how state policies could be designed to reflect developmentally appropriate responses to school discipline.

3.) Raising awareness among national stakeholders about the model.

  • Work with federal agencies and national funders to replicate the program in other jurisdictions.