Expanding the Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program

The Challenge

When a young person is arrested at school, they suffer the traumatic experiences of being handcuffed, transported by police to a secure holding facility, and photographed and fingerprinted during processing. School-based arrests have pushed thousands of students into the juvenile justice system, a phenomenon known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” While many jurisdictions have employed post-arrest diversion programs, the Philadelphia Police Department is pioneering a true “trauma-informed” approach to policing, which diverts youth before they are arrested.

The Project

In spring 2014, Philadelphia Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel—in collaboration with the Department of Human Services and the School District—launched the Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program to reduce juvenile arrest rates, improve school retention, and prevent the collateral consequences of justice system involvement. This unique police-led program targets students who commit first-time, low-level delinquent acts on or about school premises. Students who qualify for the program are diverted from arrest and instead provided with Intensive Prevention Services at no cost.

This Stoneleigh Fellowship enabled Kevin to:

  • Sustain and expand the Police School Diversion Program locally. Kevin advised the Philadelphia Police Department on the roll-out of the diversion program and created materials to inform principals and students about the collateral consequences of arrest and juvenile justice involvement.
  • Encourage broader statewide implementation of the program by building on the momentum of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the State Disproportionate Minority Contact Subcommittee, developing trainings and materials to support individual jurisdictions across Pennsylvania, and informing state legislators about developmentally appropriate responses to school discipline.
  • Raise awareness among national stakeholders about the model, including work with federal agencies and national funders to replicate the program in other jurisdictions.
Kevin Bethel's Headshot

Kevin Bethel, MS

Stoneleigh Fellow

2016 - 2020

Stoneleigh Fellow

Current Position

Philadelphia Police Department



Project Updates