Since that time reforms in Texas have moved a long way from the Missouri model, but the St. Louis Post Dispatch offered a story to at least remind us of what Texas should be aiming for ("Missouri leads nation in juvenile justice reform," Sept. 13). The approach at first blush sounds like it would be criticized reflexively as "soft on crime," except that it achieves anti-recidivism results that won over even the most hard-nosed cynics in Missouri. Reports the Post-Dispatch, tracking the story of a single inmate:
Instead of being imprisoned like a criminal, he became a kid again.It took political courage, initially, to launch the Missouri program, but now that it's been in place for a while, the numbers tell the tale: Their recidivism rates were just 8% over three years compared with 30% in Maryland, which has a similar sentencing scheme and more traditional youth prisons like Texas.
Instead of cell bars and handcuffs, he was given a tidy dorm room, stuffed animals and even a pet turtle. Instead of shame, he was given group therapy, school work, job training and a support group of 10 peers led by a therapist — not a prison guard.
It is that approach to juvenile delinquency, dubbed the "Missouri Model," that garnered the Missouri Division of Youth Services last week the 2008 Annie E. Casey Innovations Award in Children and Family System of Reform. The award, administered by Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, comes with a $100,000 prize to promote the model.
Judges commended the program for its staying power, its current push to link its programs with community advisory boards and its growing influence on juvenile justice nationwide.
So far, Missouri has hosted visitors from 30 states seeking to overhaul juvenile systems in which recidivism and suicide rates are high, and where youths are often written off as hardened criminals.
TYC is at least lurching toward smaller facilities, to some extent, but not as small as the ones in Missouri, except for a few halfway houses, and not with the same therapeutic approach. And if TYC caseloads increase, the pressure to revert to larger facilities to warehouse delinquent youth could become overwhelming.
All this to say, the Missouri model may be too lofty a goal for Texas to reasonably strive for in the current environment, but reading this Post-Dispatch story will at least give readers a sense of what Texas' best experts (pdf) told the Lege they should be shooting for during the 80th Legislature, whether or not it's achievable.