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Small Is Beautiful: The Missouri Division of Youth Services

NCJ Number
Dick Mendel
Date Published
11 pages
This paper describes the features and effects of the Missouri Division of Youth Services' (DYS') experiment with smaller correctional programs, which began in the 1970's.
In the early 1980's, Missouri closed both of its boys and girls large "training schools," due to persistent evidence that the "training schools" were abusive and ineffective. DYS secured smaller sites across the State -- using such facilities as abandoned school buildings, large residential homes, and a convent -- and designing them to house delinquent youth. The largest of the new facilities housed only 36 juveniles. DYS divided the State into five regions, thus allowing youth to be confined in facilities within driving distance of their homes and families. The facilities were staffed primarily with college-educated "youth specialists," rather than traditional corrections officers. This system of small facilities did not immediately produce any dramatic improvements in the effectiveness of juvenile corrections. Initially, there was chaos at many of the new sites; however, conditions in the facilities steadily improved as DYS tinkered with staffing patterns, invested in staff training, built case-management and family-counseling capabilities, and invested in community-based services to monitor and support juveniles after they leave custody. Missouri employs mental health counselors to work with youth and their families, and it partners with outside psychiatrists to ensure that confined youth receive appropriate psychotropic medications. The DYS infuses treatment into every aspects of its correctional programs. Residents are placed in teams of 9 to 11 youth. All facility daily activities are done as a team. Each afternoon teams meet in treatment rooms, where they participate in activities designed to build comradery and explore issues of trust, perceptions, and communication. There is a strong emphasis on physical and emotional safety for each youth. Teams are trained to restrain any youth who threatens the group's safety. Only staff members may authorize a restraint, and once restraint is authorized, team members grab arms and legs and wrestle the youth to the ground. Once down, the team holds the youth until he/she regains composure.