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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Missouri leads the nation in juvenile justice reform

Juve625sept13 ST. LOUIS — Hope for the once-fallen teen sparkles in an emerald green class ring under the fluorescent lights of the Hogan Street Regional Youth Center.

"It's a blessing," says Terrell, 17, fingering the ring he earned for passing his GED exam with 1,000 points to spare.

He was awarded the ring at a cap-and-gown ceremony last month in the facility's gym, where he was cheered on by 29 other teens also serving sentences for serious and sometimes violent crimes.

Terrell's adolescence took a textbook journey into juvenile delinquency: an impoverished childhood, skipping high school, smoking drugs, stealing, ignoring the juvenile court, packing a gun, and the first-degree armed robbery that sent him to Hogan Street.

But what happened to Terrell after he entered the custody of Missouri's Division of Youth Services was something that's also becoming textbook: Instead of being imprisoned like a criminal, he became a kid again.

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. [Mark Godsey]

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