Stoneleigh Fellow Kevin Bethel and the Diversion Program are featured in The Economist.
Until recently in Texas it was a criminal offence to cause a rumpus on a school bus; in South Carolina, it still is one to cause a disturbance in school. In Pennsylvania, among other states, it is a criminal offence to take a weapon, including an almost-harmless pair of nail-scissors, into school, for which even a ten-year-old would face arrest. “It’s the stupidest, craziest thing I’ve ever seen, says Kevin Bethel, Philadelphia’s newly retired deputy-commissioner of police.
After arrest—a fate until recently experienced by around 1,600 students in Philadelphia each year—the arrested child is taken to the district police headquarters for fingerprinting and processing, which takes about six hours, much of it spent in a prison cell. Minor offenders, including weeping ten-year-old scissors-carriers, are then let off with the sort of punishment a teacher might have demanded in the first place, such as lines or chores—though if they fail to carry these out, they may wind up in court, alongside more serious offenders. “What does it mean when we take a ten-year-old child into a cell block and we don’t really know why?” asks Mr Bethel.