The law calls them thieves, addicts, even murderers. But to Rose McCarty, the detainees at St. Louis’ Juvenile Detention Center are just kids.
“It’s a very dark future many of these kids are facing,” McCarty said. “But they can still laugh playing Monopoly or listening to music.”
The detention center houses children, some as young as 10 years old, as they await trial. They spend most of the day in class. The center has a small gym, but no yard.
“A lot of the programs are really people talking at them,” McCarty said. “So, when we visit, we hang out or play games or just chat. We don’t treat them like ‘at-risk’ youth.”
McCarty, who majored in urban studies in Arts & Sciences, has no delusions about the detainees here. Many are guilty; some are dangerous. But she also believes the juvenile justice system treats these children unfairly. That’s why McCarty plans to return to Washington University for a JD/MSW dual degree.
“Their most urgent problem is that they are incarcerated, so that is why knowing the law is important,” McCarty said. “But that’s not the only issue they have. They may not have supervision at home or the resources for a treatment program or the ability to go to school because they need to work. That’s where a social work perspective comes in. I want to holistically intervene because neither issue on its own is enough.”