A new report from the Vera Institute’s Center on Youth Justice evaluates Washington, D.C.’s strategies for reforming its juvenile corrections center based on Missouri-inspired principles and how those strategies have been implemented.
“A Capital Change: A Process Evaluation of Washington, D.C.’s Secure Juvenile Placement Reform” is based on interviews and observations from mid-2009 to mid-2010, and examines the District’s reform efforts since the planning stage in 2005. During that time the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services closed the troubled Oak Hill Youth Center and opened the 60-bed New Beginnings Youth Development Center to house all youth placed in secure confinement.
New Beginnings emphasizes group process, cooperative relationships between youth and staff and positive youth development.
Researchers concluded that external political forces were critical for starting and implementing reforms and that strong, consistent leadership at both the senior and middle-management levels help ensure implementation.
They also found that while some line staff had accepted the new therapeutic treatment approach, others were against it. Differences in staff attitudes were partly affected by how well they grasped reform principles, variations in skill sets and feelings of devaluation by senior management, the report said.
One of the most significant challenges to the implementation process was the use of New Beginnings as temporary housing for youth awaiting placement in alternative programs.
Researchers found that these youth were not integrated into the new structure, did not follow the same rules as the other youth and could be highly disruptive to the therapeutic group process.
Separating those youth is one of the report’s key recommendations. Researchers also recommend that the DYRS administration strengthen relationships with New Beginnings staff to help spur the cultural transformation and better integrate behavioral health staff.
The Casey Foundation released a comprehensive report in 2010 on “The Missouri Model: Reinventing the Practice of Rehabilitating Young Offenders.”