CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Missouri’s efforts to address juvenile crime and recidivism were recognized with the 2008 Annie E. Casey Innovations Award in Children and Family System Reform.
Missouri’s Division of Youth Services was one of the six government programs honored at the Innovations in American Government Awards. The awards program, which is administered by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass., recognizes innovative and effective public agency initiatives, programs and systems that serve children and families.
“As states across the nation grapple with the most effective ways to rehabilitate and reform juvenile offenders, Missouri demonstrates a truly unique approach to halting the pernicious cycle of youth delinquency,” says Stephen Goldsmith, director of the awards program at the Kennedy School.
Originally initiated in Massachusetts, the Missouri model adopts a comprehensive therapeutic, community- based approach to juvenile justice centered on comprehensive, ongoing support, services and treatment, and personal, educational and career development programming. The model relies on specialized staff, peer participation, interaction with the court system and strong community supports.
Missouri abandoned its punitive sanction model and centralized juvenile detention in the early 1990s in the wake of a critical federal report on the conditions and outcomes in the state’s juvenile justice system.
The state has since established a regional network of 32 small, dormitory-style juvenile facilities in community settings that deliver a range of therapeutic treatment and development programs designed to reduce juvenile crime and recidivism.
The state has also expanded alternatives to incarceration and diverts many youth offenders to DYS-supported community-based programs. The division offers proctor-home placements and provides day-treatment and family support services to those low-risk offenders permitted to remain at home.
From 2003 to 2007, Missouri reported a juvenile recidivism rate of 7 percent to 9 percent, significantly less than the rates reported in states such as Florida (29 percent), Maryland (30 percent) and Louisiana (45 percent), officials say.
DYS will receive $100,000 to fund knowledge sharing and program replication in other jurisdictions throughout the country.
“In honoring this program, we hope other states will develop similar strategies for transforming offenders into productive citizens,” Goldsmith says.
Missouri’s regional network of juvenile facilities — most have fewer than 40 beds — provides normalized environments, with no cells, uniforms or restraints.
Wards receive individualized educational assistance, engage in daily group meetings, and participate in volunteer and community engagement activities. The staff-to-ward ratio is about 1:5 and a team of psychologists, teachers, social workers and trained counselors emphasize education and personal growth for offenders.
The decentralized facilities, which feature dorm-style bedrooms, classrooms and activities space, help to maintain family ties and emphasize community involvement, officials say.
The community setting also allows case managers, who oversee each ward from admission through discharge to ensure continuity of care and increased accountability for outcomes, to engage families from the moment of admission, officials say.
A series of community-based programs facilitate a gradual transition from institutional care and return to the community. The comprehensive approach continues after release and includes ongoing therapy, employment assistance and substance-abuse treatment.
“Our system is based on the belief that the public interest is best served by helping young people turn their lives around and become law-abiding and productive citizens,” says Tim Decker, director of the Division of Youth Services. “Our treatment and education approach, combined with job preparation and family and community engagement to support the life changes they are making, gives us the system we have today.”
More than 90 percent of juvenile offenders who graduate from the DYS programs avoid re-incarceration for at least three years, according reports.
The success of the Missouri model is not limited to reductions in juvenile crime and recidivism rates, and lawmakers and juvenile justice officials from 30 states have visited Missouri’s facilities, officials say.
The state reports significantly increased high school graduation and GED rates. Approximately 90 percent of juvenile offenders earn high school credits and almost 50 percent return to public schools.
The state also reports a high success rate in job placements and work outcomes among juveniles enrolled in DYS and significant reductions in violence at facilities.
“The Missouri model demonstrates that improved treatment, education and support is cost-effective, reduces recidivism rates, and most importantly, provides troubled youth with the opportunity to turn their lives around and become contributing members of their communities,” says Douglas W. Nelson, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Louisiana launched a Missouri-style program in 2005, and the District of Columbia began a phased transition in 2006. New Mexico has also been working with the Missouri Youth Services Institute to implement the model.
In addition, states including Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Texas have had initial discussions about the program.
“Missouri’s Division of Youth Services is leading the nation in developing more effective and humane responses to juvenile delinquency,” Nelson says.
The Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation was established to foster more effective public policies, human-service reforms and community supports for children and families.