The Missouri Model: Worthwhile Reform Benefits Youth and States

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

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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