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Missouri’s Division of Youth Services highlighted as national model

“Nutshell’ book series is designed to help lawyers and parents navigate the juvenile justice system

April 5th, 2018

Story Contact: Liz McCune, 573-882-6212, mccunee@missouri.edu

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Just a few years ago, politicians were wringing their hands about the juvenile crime rates and promising to “get tough” on youths under 18 who break the law, particularly violent offenders. However, both the public and lawmakers have begun to have second thoughts and the juvenile justice system has followed suit, inching toward a model that focuses more on rehabilitation and addressing the mental health needs of youth.

In the latest edition of “Children and the Law in a Nutshell,” Douglas E. Abrams, associate professor of law at the University of Missouri, outlines the development of this rapidly changing area of law.

“The data were clear that get-tough laws were resulting in much higher rates of re-offense,” Abrams said. “When juveniles are processed in criminal court as adults, they don’t get the treatment and education they need—at least, that’s how the pendulum has swung in the court of public opinion.”

Abrams, who serves as vice chair of the advisory board of Missouri’s Division of Youth Services, said the division is a national leader for juvenile-justice reform. More than 30 states have sent delegations to inspect and study DYS facilities with an eye toward replicating the therapeutic approach followed by the “Missouri Model.” Missouri’s DYS reserves secure confinement for violent offenders and chronic offenders. It places other youth in less restrictive programs, including day treatment programs. Notably, staff are college-educated “youth specialists,” not guards or corrections officers.

At the same time, juvenile crime rates have been falling nationally, though opinion polls show the public believes rates are climbing.

“Future shift remains a possibility because, even as violent adult and juvenile crime rates have fallen for nearly two decades, most Americans believe that the rates are rising,” Abrams said.

Abrams, an expert in juvenile justice, family law, American legal history, and constitutional law, said the book—co-written by Susan Vivian Mangold, executive director of the Juvenile Law Center, and Sarah H. Ramsey of Syracuse University—is a resource for practicing lawyers and parents alike.

The book covers areas such as child abuse and neglect, foster care, adoption, children’s rights and obligations, financial relationships, and medical decisions. It is published by West Academic Publishing.

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