Juvenile offenders certified as adults would normally go to an adult prison facility. But in 1995, a program was created in Missouri to change the trajectory of those offenders.
Missouri’s Dual Jurisdiction Program allows juvenile offenders under the age of 17 ½ who have been certified as adults to stay in the custody of the Division of Youth Services. Typically, both male and female juvenile offenders are placed in the program for up to 4 years where they receive job training, vocational training and participate in group therapy. Upon completion of the program, a decision is determined about whether the offender is eligible for release or if they will be transferred to an adult facility.
Terance Irons, a former offender who successfully completed the program, is now on a better path because of the opportunity. He explained that he spent part of his teen years succumbing to pressure from peers in his neighborhood. He was convicted of a felony after driving a vehicle towards a police officer. Sarah Johnson, an assistant public defender in Missouri, met Irons when he was 16 years old. She suggested to the courts that sending Irons to the Montgomery City Youth Center to participate in the dual jurisdiction program would be more beneficial than prison.
“The jurisdiction program is one of the best programs for certified juveniles,” Johnson said. “It gives them the ability to graduate from high school, allows them to get college credit, and it gives them the ability to be a child. One of the things that we forget about is that these certified juveniles are still children.”
Irons spent more than three years in the program and is finishing up a second full school year of college. “I think that it is one of the best programs we have here in Missouri and it worked for me,” Irons added. “So, if it can work for me, I think it can work for anybody.”
Johnson stated that state statue now requires all juvenile offenders convicted of a felony to be screened for the program.
Jack Garvey, a Missouri judge in the 22nd Circuit Court, who authorized Irons’ participation, explained that the program is not just beneficial as an alternative to adult prison, but also in providing the structure many juvenile offenders lack in order to stay on the right path.
“Every day, judges are faced with this decision of people like Terance who don’t have structure,” Garvey said. “And we’re fighting constantly this culture of ‘the streets.’ So, if we have a program where we can send someone where they have structure and training, it’s a great program.”
“Many times, when I have these situations with younger offenders, I’m thinking about putting them in [rehabilitation] to save their lives and to take them off of the streets for a couple of years so they’re not killed or arrested again,” he added
As of now, the Montgomery City Youth Center only accommodates 40 juvenile offenders, but both Garvey and Johnson hopes the program will soon be expanded.
“A program like this takes [juvenile offenders] and does a lot more than just warehousing them [in prison],” Garvey said.
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