On a hot day in July 2005, state officials proudly unveiled a redesigned dormitory at the Bridge City Center for Youth
, touting it as a milestone in the long effort to change one of the most dysfunctional and dangerous youth correctional systems in the country. Instead of the prison-like conditions that had prevailed, the new dorm featured homey curtains and sofas. The young men who lived there would sleep on wooden bunk beds covered in plaid bedspreads.
The decorative changes were supposed to reflect a deeper philosophical shift: a full-throated embrace of the idea that teenage criminals are redeemable. In these new surroundings, young offenders would be expected to engage in a transformative group therapy process that originated in Missouri, considered the leader in innovative programs for juvenile delinquents.