The St. Louis Post-Dispatch describes the “Missouri Model” of juvenile justice that won the 2008 Annie E. Casey Innovations Award in Children and Family System of Reform award run Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The honor, comes with a $100,000 prize to promote the model. Missouri has hosted visitors from 30 states seeking to overhaul juvenile systems with high recidivism and suicide rates and where youths are often written off as hardened criminals. “We really work on what does it take to have an environment where it is safe enough to share your deepest and darkest concerns and really be authentic,” said Director Tim Decker, who took over the job in 2007 from the model’s architect, Mark Steward. “That’s unheard of in traditional youth corrections programs.”
This summer, the program had 313 of its youths earn their GEDs. By the division’s account, more than three-quarters of its “graduates” go on to live crime-free lives for at least three years. That contrasts with states such as Texas, where up to 50 percent return to prison. Experts agree that further outside auditing is needed, said Harvard’s Julie Boatright Wilson, who reviewed the program. It is difficult to compare recidivism rates from Missouri with those in states with more traditional corrections models because juvenile court rules differ. Missouri sends 17-year-olds to adult courts and allows judges to certify younger offenders as adults. That may skew recidivism rates in Missouri’s favor by weeding out the most difficult juveniles.