In Missouri, teen offenders are rehabilitated in small, homelike settings that stress group therapy and personal development over isolation and punishment, reports the Associated Press. With prisons around the U.S. overfull, and with states desperate for ways to bring down high recidivism rates, some policymakers are taking a look at treatment-oriented approaches like Missouri’s as a way out of the juvenile justice crisis. There, 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, like 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 incentive to take the program seriously. About 8.6 percent of teens who complete Missouri’s program are incarcerated in adult prisons within three years of release. In New York, 75 percent are re-arrested as adults, 42 percent for a violent felony. California’s rates are similar. Says Miriam Rollin of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., with a membership of 3,500 police officials, prosecutors, and crime victims: “Twenty years ago, people threw up their hands and said, ‘We don’t know what works.’ But now, we actually do know  We’re just not doing it – or not doing enough of it.”