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Show & Tell: Missouri's Division of Youth Services Acts as a National Model

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Volume: 66 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2004 Pages: 56-59
Dick Mendel
Date Published
February 2004
4 pages
This article describes Missouri's juvenile correctional program, which involves the use of relatively small facilities to increase staff-to-resident ratios.
In the 1970's and early 1980's, Missouri's Division of Youth Services (DYS) closed its large juvenile training schools and began housing juveniles in smaller facilities, most of which consisted of renovated abandoned school buildings, large residential homes, and even a convent. The largest of the new units housed only 36 juveniles. DYS divided the State into five regions, so that confined youths could remain within driving distance of their homes and families. DYS also began staffing these facilities primarily with college-educated youth, who were selected for their interest in nurturing juveniles' positive development. They received extensive training as counselors and facilitators of positive behavior and attitudes. Over the next decade, DYS developed a distinctive new approach to juvenile corrections, relying on group process and personal development rather than punishment and isolation. From the day they enter a DYS facility, the youths spend virtually every moment with a team of 9 to 11 other juveniles, as they eat, sleep, study, and shower together, always under the supervision of 2 trained youth specialists. At any time, the youths are free to call a "circle," in which all team members must stand facing one another to raise concerns or voice complaints. Staff members also call circles to enforce expectations regarding safety, courtesy, and respect. Each afternoon before dinner the teams meet in treatment rooms. One resident makes a presentation to the group about his/her life. During "genogram" exercises, juveniles produce and then explain a coded family tree that details domestic violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, criminality, and illiteracy in their families. During the "line of body" exercises, residents trace their bodies onto a large sheet of paper and then write in the physical and mental traumas they have suffered during their lives. While in aftercare, youths meet and speak frequently with their service coordinator, and many youths are also assigned a "tracker," who is typically a college student or a resident of the youth's home community. Last February, a DYS recidivism analysis found that of 1,386 juveniles released from custody in 1999, only 111 (8 percent) were sentenced to State prison or a State-run, 120-day adult incarceration program within 3 years of release; and 266 (19 percent) were sentenced to adult probation. Compared with States that measure recidivism in similar ways, these success rates are exceptional.