It takes a lot of confidence to speak in front of a group of people you’ve never met before and share your most embarrassing mistake; one that almost got you kicked out of school and thisclose to getting arrested.
At just 13 years old, our Intensive Prevention Services Youth Partner Jahnira Scere-Jones did just that. She spoke about her life-changing ordeal in front of criminal justice advocates from around the country during Youth & Law Enforcement Engagement panel at the Coalition for Juvenile Justice Conference in Washington, D.C. this month.
“I mean, I was nervous at first but I just started to get into it. I am glad my mom was there,” laughed Jahnira.
Last September, Jahnira landed in hot water after she grabbed her mother’s taser (about the size of a lipstick) from their home, carried it on a school bus, and passed it around to her school mates. Several students began tasing each other on the legs and arms.
“I mean, I was really scared,” said Jahnira. “It just got out of control.”
Thankfully, no one was seriously injured.
Jahnira’s mom, Jovon Scere, got a call from the school and news that nearly every parent dreads.
“They told me they wanted to suspend my daughter for five days and then expel her; to me it was the end of the world,” said Scere. “I thought, now she will not be able to get into a good school because of her behavior.”
That’s where the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network stepped in thanks in large part to our partnership with the Philadelphia Police Diversion Program.
Instead of getting arrested, which she had also been facing, Jahnira was willing to be placed into the diversion program which is part of our Intensive Prevention Services. The program gives kids who get in trouble like Jahnira a chance to avoid criminal charges and a criminal record after successfully completing various education, enrichment and leadership programs designed to help them work through their issues. PAAN is one of six agencies that partner with the program.
“PAAN basically taught her to set goals and how to reach them. She wanted to go to PAAN every day,” recalled Scere. “We met some awesome people; Ms. Jay, Mr. Erik, and Ms. Pam were really good and very helpful with my daughter. They encouraged her to join sports. She joined track and stuck with it. She ran in the Penn Relays and she received a plaque for most improved student. She learned how to stay focused.”
Those are some of the many reasons why Philadelphia Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel says he developed the program.
“I do not come to this as an expert, even with 29 years of law enforcement experience. But I’ve come to an awareness in my life that locking up kids cannot continue the way it’s going,” said Bethel.
Bethel says since the program began last May the number of arrests in Philadelphia schools dropped nearly 55 percent. From 2013 to 2014, police arrested 1, 527 students. As of May 2015, 691 students have been arrested; 480 were diverted into the program. Some of the offenses include bringing weapons to schools, assaults on teachers and police, and drug use.
“We are seeing success,” said Bethel. “Instead of my officers going into the schools with handcuffs I send them in with options now. I won’t see Jahnira in my system again. She’s not coming back. I know that.”
Jahnira is now in a brand new school and better environment where she is flourishing in all of her classes, according to her mother. She had been failing math and received D’s in some of her other courses. She is now making A’s, B’s, and C’s.
“This program gave my daughter a second chance; without it who knows where I would be or where she would be. I would probably be paying for lawyer fees or who knows what else,” said Scere.
Deputy Commissioner Bethel says he and his team are continuing to build upon the successful Police Diversion Program. They hope to extend the program citywide soon. He also says his office has recently received permission to go after first time theft offenders.