Diversion programs are designed to provide alternatives to incarceration and resources to those who would otherwise have been imprisoned and sent to jail.
A criminal is someone who is arrested and taken into custody. Then they are sent to prison and tried in a traditional court. Individuals can avoid the diversion process entirely or partially by receiving treatment and rehabilitation programming that addresses the reason they have committed the crime. What happens if diversion programs that were intended to help do more harm than good.
The Prison Policy Initiative is a research and advocacy non-profit organization that exposes the wider harms of mass criminalization. It informs us that not all diversion programsThey are not all created equal. For Black and Brown youthFor those who face the brunt the brunt of arrests and incarceration, diversion programs may be beneficial, but they should not be centered on the institution of police to carry them out.
An example of this is Philadelphia’s police school diversion programPiloted in 2014 to combat rising youth arrests at schools and provide them with community-based resource. The partnership between the Philadelphia Police Department (PDP) and the School District of Philadelphia appears to be working well at first. The results are astounding. Philadelphia Inquirer boasted that the program was a “promising reform,” and that its founder, former Philadelphia Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, “broke the school-to-prison pipeline.” After all, the program decreased youth arrests across the school district in a moment where youth arrests and incarcerationIn the U.S., rates have fallen
The school-based incident is the first step to entry into the program. The school can make an independent disciplinary determination, but will usually inform the school safety officer or a Philadelphia police officer. The officer will determine if the child should or can’t be diverted. If the child has no prior school record and the officer deems the crime to be “low-risk” or “non-serious,” they may offer diversion. They are arrested otherwise.
Youths who are released from custody are seen by a social worker. They are then offered community-based services, such as mentoring, academic support, or victim-offender conference. The Philadelphia Police Department tracks and documents the activities of diverted youth, as well as the recommended services, throughout this process. This increases the information that officers have about the youths.
Although this seems like a very effective and promising reform, it is still connected to the police. draws major concernsThese have been echoed by the community. For example, one student from Philadelphia. Alison FortenberryAlison stated that the police officers see her and other youths as criminals, thus presenting the narrative of criminality. This is not a problem for Alison. Her concern joins several other students organizing within the Philly Student UnionThe youth-centered organization, Youth Centered Organization, has been advocating for schools. disband police entirely.
The reality of this program is that it is predicated on the notion that police can be repackaged with a “softer” approach to school safety. It is based on rebranding Philadelphia police as “safety officers” who opt to wear more casual clothes with no badge, but as we should expect, still police. It obscures the fact that police officers are traumatizing, and increases the possibility that Black and Brown youth will become criminalized.
Sure, fewer youths are arrested and more are provided with community-based services through the program, but the stigma of criminalization that follows them and the strengthening of the prison-industrial complex does not go away — police reinforce that. It can be eliminated entirely by removing police officers from the equation.
We must not allow police-led youth diversion programs to fool us into believing they are reforms to combat youth incarceration and arrest. These reforms are unlikely to bring about long-term changes and create the illusion that police should be present in everyday life, such as the schools youths frequent. Even though these may seem promising efforts at diversionary reforms, policing is still geared towards one goal: to police.
We must look at the impact of policing on schools and how it affects youth diversion programs.
First, you need to know a few facts about police. They lie, incite racism, sexists, transphobic and heterosexist violence and harm, and often make things worse. The institution of policing and police themselves are inherently violent and racist entities — history informs usThat’s it. But how does this all come to be in schools?
Think about the headlines that have appeared in newspapers and on the news recently. They have sparked debates in America about police overreach, and the harm they do to schools. From 17-years old Anthony Thompson Jr.,Police shot and killed a student in a school bathroom stall. 4-year-old girl in Virginia with ADHD who allegedly threw a block at another student and was later handcuffed, transported to a squad car and taken to the sheriff’s office, police officers have had a substantial role in school violence and punishment towards youths.
These are just a few examples of the negative effects of police presence in schools. Instead of protecting the youth, police in schools are more often to be a nuisance. guarding the school like a prison. Instead of being welcoming and inviting, the entrances to the school are now hostile. metal detectorsThey are monitored by stationed patrol vehicles.
All things considered, the presence of police in schools does not improve the experience of youths and leads to worse outcomes, especially for Black and Brown youth.
What does this all mean for police-led youth divert programs? They may seem to be a strategy for youth arrests and incarceration. They have only exacerbated violence in policing and hurt marginalized communities by keeping them in schools and allowing them to lead diversionary programmes. Police-led youth diversion programs are not effective in combating the prison-industrial complex.
Police-led youth diversion programs strengthen the building of carceral capacity — what political scientist Heather Schoenfeld describes as the dramatic increase in the state capacity to punish through new bureaucratic structures, new frontline and administrative positions, new staff training and new protocols across the criminal legal system.
By strengthening police power — allowing them to be the first responders to school incidents and determining who is diverted — reformers for police-led youth diversion programs inevitably build capacity for the prison-industrial complex.
These diversion programs support the argument that things have improved while working to end the school-to prison pipeline. Children can stay in school, and they are not arrested or incarcerated. What do these programs mean? Progression?
Progress is acknowledging the historical harm done by police. It is making conscious decisions to position other entities such as counselors in youth diversionary reform. It is also making a proactive shift to providing communities with what they need — housing, health care, quality education — so instances that would have otherwise involved police are not needed.
Maya Schenwar, Victoria Law remind usInnovation is not a guarantee of progress. If we want to make progress in ending mass incarceration of youth and adults, it is important to critically consider how we can stop creating diversionary policies from prison-industrial complex mechanisms.
While the focus here has been on police-led youth diversion programs, in any measure of reform — be it youth-diversion reform or reform to combat drug addiction among adults — we must ask ourselves whether the proposed diversion program will divest power from carceral institutions. Ask yourself if your diversion program is focused on reducing carceral capacity, rather than increasing it. A police-led diversion program for youth and adults is not the solution.
We cannot accept merely slight improvements. Some of these may actually increase the reach of policing or the prison-industrial complex. Instead, we must aim for progress — for fundamental transformation.