Diverting Youth From Justice System Can Lower Recidivism, Panel Told

By Ted Gest, The Crime Report

Kevin Bethel, a former Philadelphia Deputy Police Commissioner, was dismayed in 2014 to learn that police officers in his city were making 1,600 arrests of students each year— many of them for relatively minor offenses such as marijuana possession or fighting.

Photo by peretzpup via Flickr

Photo by peretzpup via Flickr

Bethel believed that most such cases could be handled by sending accused students to various social service providers rather than processing them in the juvenile justice system. He devised a diversion program with a goal of cutting the arrest total in half.

The effort has far achieved that goal, reducing arrests to only 456 in the program’s fourth year, Bethel told a seminar sponsored by the Committee on Law and Justice of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine  in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

Repeat criminality is also lower among the diverted students, only 14 percent compared with 27 percent of youths who went through the arrest process, Bethel said.

Similar programs using a strategy known as “diversion,” which sends justice-involved youth to social services rather than to detention cells, are winning increased support among authorities, the seminar was told.

Police departments around the U.S. made more than 620,000 arrests of youths under 18 in 2017. It was a much lower total than the crime-prone 1990s–there were more than 2.5. million juvenile arrests in 1998–but critics say the current numbers still are too high.

Some 140,000 youth arrests in 2017 were for property crimes and nearly 100,000 for assaults that didn’t rise to the level of “aggravated.”

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