Maryland is one of the latest states to study Missouri as a model in juvenile corrections. The Baltimore Sun said the atmosphere in Missouri’s Hogan Street Regional Youth Center in St. Louis, an aging brick building, once a parochial school, is a far cry from that in juvenile facilities in most states. The youths live in dorms, not cells. They wear their own clothes, not uniforms. They move about freely, supervised by college-educated counselors who are more like mentors than guards. “Our whole program is geared to what would you want for your own children,” said Mark Steward, head of Missouri’s Division of Youth Services.
Far fewer of the juvenile offenders who go through Missouri’s system go on to commit crimes that land them in adult prison than is the case elsewhere, studies show. Steward said the key is to create a homelike environment in which youngsters feel safe – emotionally and physically – and to have a well-trained cadre of counselors who work with them intensively. To those who argue that Missouri’s approach is too “feel-good, soft on crime,” Steward has this response: It works, and it saves taxpayer dollars in the long run. A study last year showed that just 8 percent of the 1,386 teens released from state custody in Missouri in 1999 were sentenced to state prison in the next three years. That compares with a 30 percent rate in Maryland. “No matter how you cut it, Missouri’s numbers look good,” said Bart Lubow, director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s programs for high-risk youths.