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Report: Missouri on Right Track for Juvenile Justice

Missouri made changes in the juvenile justice system three decades ago that are being hailed as a model for other states. (aecf.org)
Missouri made changes in the juvenile justice system three decades ago that are being hailed as a model for other states. (aecf.org)
October 24, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri stands out for its work in turning young lives around, according to a new report on youth prisons.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation research pulls together evidence of the ineffectiveness of youth correctional facilities, showing they are expensive and prone to abuse, and concluding they fail at reform.

And it recommends closing all youth prisons and reinvesting in other types of programs.

Casey Foundation President and CEO Patrick McCarthy says Missouri is a good example, because about 30 years ago lawmakers made a shift in the approach of how to handle youth who have broken the law.

"Missouri took on this issue many years ago and created a network within the state of smaller, more home-like, and more treatment oriented facilities," he states.

In 2008, Missouri won a Harvard Kennedy School Innovations in Government Award for reforms in the juvenile justice system.

According to the Casey Foundation report, systemic maltreatment has been documented in youth prison facilities in nearly half the states since 2000, including Missouri.

McCarthy says it's the result of a model focused on security and control.

"They are staffed by corrections officers and in some facilities things like Mace have been used, long extended isolation, shackles, handcuffs – very brutal methods of controlling a young population," he explains.

And instead of the outmoded assumption that locking youth up improves safety, McCarthy says the corrections culture should focus on rehabilitating them.

"We've got to build a juvenile justice system that's based on the very simple principle of developing young people's capacity, giving them opportunity,” he stresses. “Holding them accountable, of course, is also very important, but doing it in a way that provides them a path to get back on track."

In Missouri the recidivism rate three years after release from custody is about 3 in 10 adults, but for juveniles, it's just over 6.5 percent.


Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO