The Other "Missouri Model": Systemic Juvenile Injustice in the Show-Me State

Article excerpt

I.   INTRODUCTION: COMPETING REALITIES OF JUVENILE JUSTICE        FOR THE SHOW-ME STATE II.  THE "MISSOURI MODEL"--DIVISION OF YOUTH SERVICES        AS PART OF THE STORY III. THE "OTHER" MISSOURI MODEL        A. Collapsing Schools and Criminalizing Childhood           1. Educational Inadequacies           2. Safe Schools Act Problems           3. Other Net-Widening Practices        B. Juvenile Courts and Due Process Failures           1. Conflicts in Court Structure           2. Lack of Probable Cause Hearings           3. Informal Process as Punishment           4. Impoverished Juvenile Defense System        C. Imprisoning Youth           1. Race and Justice by Geography           2. Forgotten and Unprotected           3. Mandatory Death Behind Bars Sentences IV. A SINGLE VISION: EVOLVING STANDARDS AND HOPE FOR THE DAYS AHEAD 

I. INTRODUCTION: COMPETING REALITIES OF JUVENILE JUSTICE FOR THE SHOW-ME STATE

For years Missouri has been touted as a model for juvenile justice. Stakeholders and commentators continually declare that the Show-Me State--with its "Missouri Model"--employs the most modern and innovative approaches when it comes to treatment of court-involved youth. This account is reflected in press coverage, television news shows, and agency white papers. But this is only part of the picture; there is much more happening in Missouri when it comes to juveniles. However, this "other" part of the story seldom has been openly discussed--until now. (1)

From failing schools, to deeply conflicted court structures, to a shortage of free representation, Missouri's most vulnerable children must contend with outdated and deficient systems of support as they make their way to adulthood. As was discussed at the University of Missouri School of Law's recent symposium relating to the Supreme Court of the United States' decision in Miller v. Alabama, (2) this reality stands in stark contrast to a commitment to evolving standards of decency of a modern society. For too many Missouri youth daily life includes ongoing indignities, deprivation of legal protections, and denial other basic rights--including one of the most fundamental features of our shared human experience--that is, the right to hope. (3) In fact, as this

Article goes to press eighty-four of Missouri's young people--some as young as fourteen years old--have been mandatorily sentenced to die in Missouri's maximum security prisons. (4)

This Article seeks to contrast the rosy picture painted on the national level--one that suggests a model system of juvenile justice from top to bottom --with the more troubling day-to-day problems facing youth in Missouri's communities, courts, and institutions of confinement. This examination is rooted in my own recent experiences. Like others who attended the symposium, I am an academic who teaches about the theories underlying Supreme Court decisions like Miller. However, I also run a youth advocacy clinic in the real world of St. Louis, Missouri.

Thus what follows is not a theoretical analysis of the implications of Miller. Rather, it is an account of the law as lived by Missouri's most vulnerable youth--from kids in Missouri's local trial courts to individuals serving mandatory juvenile life sentences without any opportunity for parole. It is informed by the work of Washington University School of Law's Juvenile Law and Justice Clinic (JLJC), a law school clinic engaged in youth advocacy efforts in St. Louis, Missouri. (5) And it argues it is time to shed light on the "other" Missouri Model of juvenile justice--and fundamentally reform the system.

Part II of this Article examines some of the most well-known claims about the Missouri Model of juvenile justice, clarifying that the positive press to date actually describes only one small component of the larger juvenile justice structure: Missouri's system of residential correction for state-placed adjudicated youth. And while that system has much to admire and replicate, it also has room for improvement. …