The Missouri Model: Worthwhile Reform Benefits Youth and States

Posted October 4, 2010, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

In the wake of widespread instances of abuse, dangerous conditions and woefully high recidivism rates in state youth corrections facilities, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has issued a new report on Missouri's fundamentally different approach to juvenile corrections, documenting Missouri's superior results and urging all states to follow its lead in making their institutions more rehabilitative and effective.

The Missouri Model: Reinventing the Practice of Rehabilitating Youthful Offenders, authored by Richard Mendel, presents the rationale for reform based on better outcomes for youth and more cost effectiveness for states. The report also provides a comprehensive analysis of the “nuts and bolts” of the model used by the Missouri Department of Youth Services (DYS) so others can similarly improve their juvenile facilities.

Long known for its Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), the Casey Foundation issued this report to encourage state juvenile justice leaders to take action to end their reliance on large congregate care facilities, often called “training schools,” that have proven so costly and ineffective. The report will be released at the annual JDAI conference being held in Kansas City, Missouri October 4 - 6.

“In an era when major abuse scandals have erupted in California, Texas, New York, Ohio, Florida and other jurisdictions, and when recidivism and failure remain the norm in juvenile corrections nationwide,” the report states, “the Missouri model stands out as an attractive alternative well worth pursuing.” In fact, the states of Louisiana and New Mexico, as well as the District of Columbia and Santa Clara County, California, have begun to study and replicate the Missouri approach within their juvenile justice systems.

According to Bart Lubow, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “In too many states youth are held in dangerous, abusive facilities that are not rehabilitative and are often damaging. This report shows policymakers and practitioners that not only is there a better, more successful way, but it’s within their reach. While it will take a concerted effort, the results for kids and communities clearly justify the effort.”

Better outcomes for youth, less cost to states. The report points to the effectiveness of the Missouri model in improving public safety, making facilities safer and improving outcomes for youth without additional costs now and lower adult correctional costs in the future:

  • Recidivism. Compared with juvenile corrections agencies in states that measure recidivism in similar ways, Missouri’s Division of Youth Services (DYS) is achieving far greater success. In Arizona, Indiana and Maryland, for instance, the percentage of youth sentenced to adult prison within three years of release from a juvenile facility are 23.4%, 20.8% and 26%, respectively. By contrast, just 8.5% of youth discharged from DYS custody in 2005 were sentenced to either prison or a 120-day adult correctional program within three years of release. The two-year reincarceration rate for New Jersey youth following release from juvenile facilities is 36.7%; in Missouri the rate is just 14.5%. Author Mendel stated that “While states use a lot of different methods to calculate recidivism, Missouri comes out on top in virtually every available comparison.”
     
  • Safety. Compared with the 97 facilities participating in the Council of Juvenile and Correctional Administrators’ Performance-based Standards (PbS) project, assaults against youth are four-and-a-half times as common per capita in participating PbS facilities as in Missouri facilities and assaults on staff are more than 13 times as common. PbS facilities use mechanical restraints 17 times as often as DYS and isolation more than 200 times as often. Also, not a single youth in DYS custody has committed suicide in the 25 years since the agency closed its trainings schools.
     
  • Education. While nationally, on average, only one in four confined youth make at least one year of academic progress for one year in confinement, Missouri achieves the same rate of progress for about 3 in 4 young people.
     
  • Savings for taxpayers. Missouri spends $87 million on DYS: the equivalent to $155 for each young person in the state of juvenile age (10 to 16 years old). This figure represents a cost to taxpayers that is lower than or comparable to the juvenile corrections systems in most states. As important, DYS has saved the state millions of dollars by reducing the recidivism of juvenile offenders into adult prisons.

Not just about changing practices: changing vision. In addition to outlining the specific techniques and practices that DYS uses, the report also makes the case that changing values and beliefs are critical to success. States interested in using all or part of Missour’'s approach must first make their agency’s mission and central focus helping youth create meaningful and lasting life changes. As Cynthia Osborne, an expert cited in the report, noted, a system that holds “the traditional corrections values of punishment” must shift to one that is centered on “treatment, compassion and accountability.”

A model system built on relationships, safety and trust. Throughout the country, many confined youth are subject to physical or sexual abuse, excessive use of force and isolation, and improper prescribing of medication. Young people are most likely to be successful in pursuing needed life changes if they are in a safe, nurturing environment where they are listened to and guided by trusted adults, according to Missouri’s juvenile justice leaders. In addition to having good relationships with staff, youth must also feel free from peer intimidation, humiliation, or ridicule. Smaller, more homelike facilities with highly trained and ever-present staff have been the key to achieving this environment of mutual respect and accountability. The report emphasizes that embarking on this type of transformation requires only a willingness to take a first step and a commitment to the long-term process of continual improvement.

“Missouri’s juvenile corrections system has not always been exemplary,” the report states. “Until its closure in 1983, Boonville (Training School) was repeatedly cited for severe abuses.” After that facility closed and Missouri moved to smaller, more therapeutic facilities, it took years to build and perfect the effective therapeutic model it employs today.

Key components of the Missouri Model, which the report describes in greater detail, include:

  • Small and more home-like facilities, close to home. Missouri places youth who require confinement into smaller facilities located near the youths’ homes and families, rather than incarcerating delinquent youth in large, far-away, prisonlike training schools.
     
  • Individual care within a group treatment model. Missouri places youth into closely supervised small groups and applies a rigorous group treatment process offering extensive and ongoing individual attention, rather than isolating confined youth in individual cells or leaving them to fend for themselves among a crowd of delinquent peers.
     
  • Safety through relationships and supervision, not correctional coercion. Missouri places great emphasis on (and achieves admirable success in) keeping youth safe not only from physical aggression but also from ridicule and emotional abuse; and it does so through the constant supervision of well-trained staff and supportive peer relationships rather than through coercive techniques that are commonplace in most youth corrections systems.
     
  • Building skills for success. Missouri helps confined youth develop academic, pre-vocational and communications skills that improve their ability to succeed following release – along with crucial insights into the roots of their delinquent behavior and new social competence to acknowledge and solve personal problems.
     
  • Families as partners. Missouri reaches out to family members and involves them both as partners in the treatment process and as allies in planning for success in the aftercare transition, rather than keeping families at a distance and treating them as the source of delinquent youths’ problems.
     
  • Focus on aftercare. Missouri provides considerable support and supervision for youth transitioning home from a residential facility-conducting intensive aftercare planning prior to release, monitoring and mentoring youth closely in the first crucial weeks following release, and working hard to enroll them in school, place them in jobs, and/or sign them up for extracurricular activities in their home communities.

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