JDAI interviews Judge Darrell E. Missey of Jefferson County, Missouri
The Honorable Darrell Missey was elected to Missouri’s 23rd Circuit Court in 2002 and serves as its juvenile court judge. Missey is the co-chair of the Missouri JDAI Replication Team responsible for taking JDAI to scale. He graduated from St. Louis University School of Law in 1992 and spent 10 years as a trial attorney in general practice.
In what ways has juvenile detention reform shaped you as a judge?
The movement to reform juvenile detention policy has caused me to take a serious look at an array of appropriate responses to each juvenile's conduct and to begin that evaluation from the very beginning of a case. From the first moment of court involvement we look at the juvenile's particular needs and assess whether those needs can be met outside of detention while protecting the child and the community.
How have your opinions on detention changed over the years?
When I first took the bench, we detained first and asked questions later. I thought detention was almost always necessary to get a young person's attention. Over time, I began to realize that while the shock factor of detention may work the first time, it rapidly loses its effect. I noticed that kids who are repeatedly detained become accustomed to the detention center, such that the detention itself has no impact on them other than to harden them to correction and delay useful treatment. After eight years on the bench, I now believe that the detention center should generally be used in cases where a juvenile poses a threat of danger to self or others. Certainly, it should not be used just because a kid makes us mad.
Why did you become a judge?
That's a long story. The short answer is that I ran for election to our court's juvenile division because I believed that families and children were being treated unfairly in dependency cases in our county. Missouri law makes family reunification and rehabilitation a priority, and I wanted to be sure that law was being fully applied. After I was elected and began handling the juvenile docket, I realized that the challenges facing the families of delinquent offenders are very similar to those of our foster children. Missouri's emphasis on rehabilitation of juvenile offenders fit perfectly with my approach to allow families to be restored when possible.
What do you love about being a judge?
I love the opportunity to do justice by making sure everyone gets a fair shake. I am greatly fulfilled by the opportunity to help people work through problems and come to a better place in their lives. I particularly enjoy the delinquency docket because I feel we do seriously good work there. Every day we encounter kids who are making decisions that will impact the rest of their lives. I get the opportunity to be part of a process where we give them the opportunity to repent, turn their lives in a different direction, and head toward a better future.
How do you see Missouri changing as it takes JDAI to scale?
Missouri has already come a long way in its implementation of JDAI, and I think much of the transition has already occurred in our most populated areas. I believe that the biggest change will come with the statewide utilization of the risk instrument to determine whether to detain juveniles. Although absolute uniformity is not possible, consistency and fairness are necessary. I believe Missouri will continue to improve in those areas.
To what do you attribute the success of JDAI in Missouri?
I think that we have a great replication team full of people who are extremely talented and well respected in the juvenile field. I give particular credit to Bob Perry, who left his retirement from juvenile work behind to head this initiative. His thoughtful leadership has impacted all of us. We also have great leadership from our Supreme Court and the many people who work for the Court at the Office of State Courts Administrator. Without all of these people, our success would not be possible.
See related article, Missouri taking JDAI to scale.