An Enlightened & Effective Effort to Treat Juvenile Offenders

While some states are attempting to crack down on rising rates of juvenile delinquency with a “scared straight” approach of tough laws and long jail sentences, Missouri is taking a more humane, enlightened and effective approach to solving this problem.

An article by CNN’s Stephanie Chen reports on Missouri’s efforts to give young offenders a better chance at a brighter future:

While America’s juvenile system is often criticized for corruption and abuse, Missouri state officials say its juvenile justice solution has saved billions of dollars and reduced the number of repeat offenders. In the last four decades, the state has transformed its juvenile system into one that defies the traditional prison model.

Known as the Missouri model, the program focuses on therapy, comfortable living conditions and an emphasis on job training and education. Missouri’s facilities are serving thousands of young offenders, and they are receiving national acclaim.

Each offender is placed in a small group of 10 to 15, assigned a case worker and sent to school during the day. Offenders also put on Shakespeare stage productions and play sports. They learn about teamwork through camping and rock climbing.

“Young people are really turning their lives around and becoming productive citizens,” Tim Decker, director of Missouri Division of Youth Services, told CNN. “We’ve redefined what’s possible in the juvenile justice system.”

Bullies, Victims at Increased Risk of Mental Health Disorders

Children who are bullies or victims of bullying are at risk for mental disorders as young adults, according to a study of children in Finland.

Dr. Andre Sourander of the University of Turku followed 5,038 children from age eight to age 24 years old. About six percent of the boys and four percent of the girls were frequently bullied. Six percent of the boys were bullies themselves.

Among the boys who had been both bullies and victims, 33 percent ended up taking psychiatric medications and 17 percent underwent psychiatric hospitalizations.
These statistics compared to rates of 12 percent and 5 percent among boys who had not been involved in bullying.
About a third of female victims of bullying needed psychiatric medications, compared to 16 percent who had never been bullied.
Twelve percent of the female victims were hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, compared to four percent of other girls in the study.

The study appeared in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

At-Risk LA Youth Benefit from ‘Hands for Hope’

In the Dec. 13 edition of the Los Angeles Daily News, staff writer Tony Castro reported on a charter school’s efforts to help at-risk youth stay on track toward academic success and healthy personal development:

In a basement of the Valor Academy Charter School in Arleta, several youngsters in maroon-and-gray uniforms spend their afternoon on homework – indicative of the student work that has made Valor one of the highest-achieving local educational institutions.

All the children are so-called “at-risk kids,” many from single-parent homes and living in an area rife with crime and gangs. Yet, they are beating the odds, thanks to the Hands for Hope after-school program that has been earning high praise from community and corporate leaders.

“I myself come from a single-parent family – my mother had epilepsy – and I have two sisters and a brother and they’re all single parents,” says Hands for Hope founder Lydia Floyd. “So I thought there should be some way to give back and help single parents who are struggling.”

Hands for Hope programs are also in operation in North Hollywood and Sunland.

Circus Helps Homeless Youth

Once upon a time, youth in crisis dreamed of running away to join the circus. Today, thanks to an innovative program and a dedicated instructor, the circus is coming to the rescue of homeless youth.

Josie Raymond of explains:

Years ago, after training and performing as an aerialist around the world, Jenn Cohen, now 34, started coaching at-risk students in San Francisco.

That role inspired her to return to school to earn her master’s degree in social work — “always with the idea of bringing it back to circus.” The Circus Project started as her master’s thesis.

In 2008, The Circus Project opened its doors in Portland. Since then, more than 200 people have tried the circus life on for size.

A large part of the project’s mission remains instilling confidence in at-risk youth from 12 to 24 who stream in from partner organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys & Girls Club, or after hearing Cohen speak at their hangouts.

“I owe a big part of who I am to The Circus Project,” one participant said. “Before I came here I had just turned 21. I was either going out or drinking at home all the time. It was a really unstable lifestyle. Now I take much better care of my body.”

Peer Jury Program Hits 10-Year Milestone

In December 2010, an innovative effort to help troubled youth in Downers Grove, Illinois, celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Brian Slodysko of the TribLocal newspaper reported on the successes of the Downers Grove Peer Jury system:

The concept is simple: if a juvenile offender pleads guilty to committing a crime – ranging anywhere in severity from possession of alcohol to retail theft and even burglary – they are given the option of facing a jury of their peers who will then assess punishment.

“Research shows peers actually respect their peers in terms of their opinions and being held accountable,” said Lori Wrzesinski, the director of youth services for Downers Grove Township. “It basically is about what we can do to hold you accountable to ensure that you don’t repeat it.”

Lori Rhoades, a recent college grad and former Downers Grove North student said her time serving on a peer jury made her realize everybody makes mistakes.

“It changes perspective … which is how it should be, breaking down generalizations made about teens,” Rhoades said. “We tend to think certain types of people will misbehave. All kinds of people can make mistakes and learn from that and regain themselves.”