A tall chain-link fence surrounds the Northwest Regional Youth Center in Kansas City, but inside there are few signs that 10 teenagers are confined. They wear regular clothes and the teachers and staff are dressed casually. The center is where Missouri sends some of its most troubled – and troublesome – juvenile offenders, says National Public Radio. Street thugs from St. Louis mix with gang members from Kansas City and pint-sized, rural car thieves, yet there’s a sense of calmness. It’s part of Missouri’s treatment-oriented approach toward juveniles where lockups are designed to resemble college dorms and offenders are treated firmly, seriously, and humanely.
Tim Decker. who runs the Missouri Division of Youth Services, says the goal is for young offenders to turn their lives around and not return. The result of Missouri’s focus on rehabilitation is a 7.3 percent recidivism rate. Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, praises Missouri’s approach and says states with troubled juvenile corrections systems could learn from it. “The basic logic of youth corrections is that if you treat young people like inmates, they’ll act like prisoners,” he says. “If you treat them like young people capable of being citizens, they’ll much more likely act like citizens.”