Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Success Story; Our View; Missouri (Yes, Missouri) Leads the Way on Juvenile Justice

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Success Story; Our View; Missouri (Yes, Missouri) Leads the Way on Juvenile Justice

Article excerpt

One of the things that Missouri government does well is juvenile justice. Now many other states have realized what Missouri realized decades ago: Locking kids up in detention centers neither bodes well for their futures nor keeps the public any safer.

Authorities have found that the more time troubled kids spend locked up, the more likely they are to come out worse than when they went in.

Data released this month by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention show that the country's juvenile commitment rate dropped 14 percent from 2010 to 2011.

Coinciding with that data, the Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project reported that the commitment rate for juveniles was down 48 percent from 1997 to 2011.

Adam Gelb, performance project director, noted that the prevailing philosophy in the '80s and '90s was that the best way to fight youth crime and violence was to lock up as many kids for as long as possible.

Science and research helped make the difference. In the past 10 to 15 years, research on brain development has shown that juveniles are different than adults and that there are more effective ways to handle them than commitment to long-term facilities.

It didn't hurt that policymakers discovered that the more successful methods also were cheaper. They're cheaper in the short term, but also in the long run. When a troubled kid is taken out of a volatile situation, gets help and develops better coping strategies, he's more likely to become a contributing member of society instead of an adult offender.

Missouri began using this approach about 30 years ago, when the state closed its "training schools," a euphemism for juvenile prisons.

A 2010 report on Missouri's approach by the Annie E. Casey Foundation suggested that the training schools often were unsafe, unhealthy and perhaps unconstitutional. Missouri replaced them with smaller group homes, camps and facilities. …

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