With police diversion, student arrests plummet

By Dale Mezzacappa, Philadelphia Notebook | December 9, 2018

Stoneleigh Fellows Kevin Bethel and Naomi Goldstein are featured in the Philadelphia Notebook for their work with the Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program.

Jaden is one of 1,800 young people who over the last four years have avoided arrest and a delinquency label due to this diversion initiative. It was the brainchild of former Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, who became alarmed at the number of students who were being arrested in school in Philadelphia – nearly 1,600 in 2013-14. With 180 days in a school year, that comes out to almost nine arrests a day.

This high rate was, in part, a consequence of a “zero tolerance” discipline policy that called police on students as young as 10 years old, often for such offenses as possessing small amounts of marijuana, fistfights that didn’t result in injury, or – as in Jaden’s case – having a weapon that was never used or brandished. “Weapon” was broadly defined to include not only a pocket knife, but also sometimes everyday items like scissors and nail clippers.

The District abandoned the zero tolerance policy in 2012, but found that the number of arrests did not go down. Naomi Goldstein, professor of psychology at Drexel University and director of Drexel’s Juvenile Justice Research & Reform Lab, said this happened because although the policy shifted on paper, actual disciplinary practices in schools largely remained the same.

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