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A look at the cuts Police School Diversion Program has made to student arrests

Law enforcement. November 2, 2016 Category: ResultsShort
Philadelphia Police Department had a shining moment three years ago when they realized arresting high school kids already suffering from poverty-induced trauma was the wrong kind of intervention.

Eighty-seven percent of students in the Philadelphia School District qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. In 2013, there were 1,600 in-school arrests made by police.

That year, when then-deputy commissioner Kevin Bethel began overseeing Philadelphia’s school police detail, he helped launch Police School Diversion Program in partnership with the school district and the Department of Human Services.

Bethel felt “taking a misbehaving student out of school in handcuffs was just another trauma,” reads an overview of the program’s impact in news site TakePart.

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Here’s how the program has worked: Instead of making immediate arrests for things like disorderly conduct or possession of marijuana, officers talk to supervisors and witnesses and puts the student to the Diversion Intake Center. If it’s a first offense, students get a second chance.

In the 2015-2016 school year — one year after implementation — student arrests fell to 569. Only 13 percent of those students have messed up their second chance and been arrested. Compare that to recidivism rates among youth who spend time in placement, “which varies from 37 to 67 percent.”

The program aligns with what many local criminal justice reform advocates have been pushing for: If we truly want to reform the system for the future, we need to take a closer look at providing services to children suffering from trauma and limit police interventions.

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