School Justice Partnership: National Resource Center

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges


Spotlight on Philadelphia County School-Justice Collaboration

As the eighth largest school district in the nation, the School District of Philadelphia serves over 142,000 students. Most of the students come from low-income families - with over 87% qualifying for free or reduced price lunch - and historically underserved racial minorities (over 71% are African American or Latino). In addition, these minorities are more likely to face suspension and expulsion, and have a higher probability of being arrested for any given disciplinary violation. During the 2013-2014 school year, there were 7,569 serious incidents that resulted in 33,041 suspensions and 1,555 arrests. 

In recognition of the potentially adverse and unfair effects of formally involving youth in the justice system, and its disproportionate impact on minority students, the Philadelphia Police Department developed the Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program (PPSDP). The program relies on strategies to reduce the number of youth unnecessarily arrested and referred to the juvenile justice system for low level offenses. The program is spearheaded by, now retired, Kevin Bethel (Stoneleigh Foundation Fellow), and represents a shared vision amongst system partners to address these issues. The program is supported by the Mayor’s office, the School District of Philadelphia, and the Department of Human Services (DHS), the District Attorney’s Office, with evaluation assistance from Drexel University. Schools, police, and the DHS coordinate efforts to connect first-time juvenile offenders to support services, with a social worker visiting the diverted youth’s home within 72 hours after the incident. The student is then directed to DHS community-based services to meet their underlying needs and remain in the program between 30 and 90 days.

The PPSDP aims to:

  • Increase awareness of mental health issues and connect youth to needed mental and behavioral health services early to prevent incidents before they occur.
  • Develop and implement systems for early identification of signs and symptoms of exposure to trauma and mental health issues.
  • Avoid unnecessary referrals to the juvenile court and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities among referred youth.
  • Reform policies and procedures to support and build local capacity for school climate transformation with support from system partners.

After the implementation of the PPSDP, the changes in practice have already had a significant and positive impact in the School District of Philadelphia. The Juvenile Research and Reform Lab of Drexel University conduct ongoing analysis of the data and evaluation of the program. Since the start of the PPSDP to the present day, a total of 1,026 students have been diverted and fewer students are arrested in school. The number of school-based arrests decreased 54% in year one (1,582 arrests the year prior to implementation of the PPSDP to 724 arrests during the 2014-2015 school year) and 23% reduction in year two (only 569 student arrests). School-based arrests for weapon possession decreased 87%, arrests for marijuana possession/use decreased 85%, and arrests for disorderly conduct decreased 77%. Of the first 798 youth who were diverted, only 36 youth had a subsequent arrest (4.5%). To access the full evaluation report, click here

More information about Philadelphia Police’s School Diversion Program, click here

 National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ)

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