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Saturday, December 29, 2007

MO Handling Their Juvenile Problem

Michael at Corrections Sentencing points us to this great story about the different approach they are taking with taking with juveniles in Missouri..

By TODD LEWAN, AP National WriterSat Dec 29, 6:09 PM ET

At age 9, Korey Davis came home from school with gang writing on his arm. At 10, he jacked his first car. At 13, he and some buddies got guns, used them to relieve a man of his Jeep, and later, while trying to outrun a police helicopter, smacked their hot wheels into a fire hydrant.

For his exploits, the tough-talking teen pulled not only a 15-year sentence (the police subsequently connected him to three previous car thefts) but got "certified" as an adult offender and shipped off to the St. Louis City workhouse to inspire a change of heart.

It didn't have the desired effect.

"I wasn't wanting to listen to nobody. If you wasn't my momma, or anybody in my family, I wasn't gonna listen to you, period," says Korey, now 19. "I was very rebellious."

At that stage, most states would have written Korey off and begun shuttling him from one adult prison to the next, where he likely would have sat in sterile cells, joined a gang, and spent his days and nights plotting his next crime.

But this is Missouri, a place where teen offenders are viewed not just as inmates but as works in progress — where troubled kids are rehabilitated in small, homelike settings that stress group therapy and personal development over isolation and punishment.

With prisons around the country filled to bursting, and with states desperate for ways to bring down recidivism rates that rise to 70 and 80 percent, some policymakers are taking a fresh look at treatment-oriented approaches like Missouri's as a way out of America's juvenile justice crisis.

Here, large, prison-style "gladiator schools" have been abandoned in favor of 42 community-based centers spread around the state so that now, even parents of inner-city offenders can easily visit their children and participate in family therapy.

The ratio of staff to kids is low: one-to-five. Wards, referred to as "clients," are grouped in teams of 10, not unlike a scout troop. Barring outbursts, they're rarely separated: They go to classes together, play basketball together, eat together, and bunk in communal "cottages." Evenings, they attend therapy and counseling sessions as a group.

Missouri doesn't set timetables for release; children stay until they demonstrate a fundamental shift in character — a policy that detainees say gives kids an added incentive to take the program seriously.

Those who are let out don't go unwatched: College students or other volunteers who live in the released youths' community track these youths for three years, helping with job placement, therapy referrals, school issues and drug or alcohol treatment.

The results?

_About 8.6 percent of teens who complete Missouri's program are incarcerated in adult prisons within three years of release, according to 2006 figures. (In New York, 75 percent are re-arrested as adults, 42 percent for a violent felony. California's rates are similar.)

_Last year, 7.3 percent of teen offenders released from Missouri's youth facilities were recommitted to juvenile centers for new offenses. Texas, which spends about 20 percent more to keep a child in juvenile corrections, has a recidivism rate that tops 50 percent.

_No Missouri teens have committed suicide while in custody since 1983, when the state began overhauling its system. From 1995 to 1999 alone, at least 110 young people killed themselves in juvenile facilities nationwide, according to figures from the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives.

Does this "law-and-order" state know something others don't?

Hardly, says Mark Steward, who, as director of the state's Division of Youth Services from 1987 to 2005, oversaw the development of what many experts regard as the best juvenile rehabilitation system in America.

"This isn't rocket science," Steward says. "It's about giving young people structure, and love and attention, and not allowing them to hurt themselves or other people. Pretty basic stuff, really. It's just that a lot of these kids haven't gotten the basic stuff."

Take Korey Davis. He didn't meet his dad until he was 5. He and his siblings were raised largely by aunts and uncles. If the judge handling his case had left him in county detention centers until he reached adult age — 17, in Missouri — then had him serve the rest of his sentence in prison, few eyebrows would have been raised.

But a chance to save a life would have been missed. "In jail, I wouldn't never have changed what I always done," Davis says. "There was no treatment at all." He contemplates this for a second, and adds with a near-whisper: "Right now, I'd probably be dead."

In Missouri, judges can keep serious felons in the juvenile system until they are 21. That's what happened with Davis. At 15, he was sent to the Montgomery City Project, where robbers, rapists and the like get one last shot.

At first, he didn't want it.

But a year into his stay, two things knocked him back on his heels: the news that his younger brother had been shot and wounded in a gang fight, and an invitation from a counselor to sit down, after class, to read a book out loud with her.

To a boy accustomed to hiding his illiteracy, the offer felt awkward. But because this woman had given him a chance, he responded, and "when I actually learned how to read, it made everything in the world easier for me."

Three years later, Davis is a group leader — and no softy with his peers, either. "We don't let each other get by with slick stuff, just doing the bare minimum," he says. He reads voraciously (recently, "The Bond," about three fatherless teens in Newark, N.J.). He's been accepted by a community technical college, plans to study carpentry. And, he's proud to say, his kid brother has taken to heart this advice:

"Put the guns down."


Many states are trying to bring down high rates of repeat offending by juveniles.

Wisconsin now treats some repeat offenders with mental health counselors in hospitals, instead of corrections officers in jails.

Illinois offers them drug treatment, job placement — or an expedited return to custody.

And Washington state targets kids at risk of becoming its most serious offenders with early, intensive anger-management, drug and family therapy.

Research guided these approaches. One 2006 study, for example, found that anger-management, foster-care treatment and family group therapy cut recidivism drastically among teens, resulting in taxpayer savings up to $78,000 per child. Programs that tried to scare kids into living a clean life were money losers, according to the study, conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

AP Story


johnsmith said...

The states under the authority of Juvenile Court took on the role of the parent and the Judge made decisions based on the juvenile's background, caseworker, reports and options available to the Court in treating juveniles.

Missouri Drug Treatment
Missouri Drug Treatment

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