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The Missouri Model Reinventing the Practice of Rehabilitating Youthful Offenders 2010

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The Missouri Model
Reinventing the Practice of Rehabilitating Youthful Offenders

The Annie E. Casey Foundation

About the Author: Richard A. Mendel is an independent writer and researcher specializing in poverty-related
issues in youth, employment, and community economic development. He has written extensively about youth
crime prevention and juvenile justice issues, including three reports for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile
Detention Alternatives Initiative, three nationally disseminated reports published by the American Youth Policy
Forum, and several articles for the popular press.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization dedicated to helping build better futures
for disadvantaged children in the United States. It was established in 1948 by Jim Casey, one of the founders of
UPS, and his siblings, who named the Foundation in honor of their mother. The primary mission of the Foundation is to foster public policies, human-service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet
the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families. In pursuit of this goal, the Foundation makes grants that
help states, cities, and neighborhoods fashion more innovative, cost-effective responses to these needs.

For more information and to download copies of the summary and full report, visit the Foundation’s
website at
©2010, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Baltimore, Maryland

Table of Contents


A Better Approach to Juvenile Corrections 	


Nuts and Bolts of the Missouri Model 	


one: Small and Non-Prisonlike	


Facilities, Close to Home	
two: Individual Care Within a Group 	


Treatment Model	
three: Safety Through Relationships 	


and Supervision, Not Correctional Coercion	
four: Building Skills for Success	


five: Families as Partners	


six: Focus on Aftercare	


Underlying Values, Beliefs, and 	


Treatment Philosophy 	
Organizational Essentials 	








he Annie E. Casey Foundation believes that this country’s continuing reliance on large youth
corrections facilities—whether they are called training schools, reformatories, or youth development centers—has been expensive, ineffective, and all too often abusive. Youth correctional
facilities are routinely found to be unsafe, unhealthy, and unconstitutional, underscoring the need
for dramatic changes in how these places are staffed, programmed, and organized.
Even where conditions in training schools meet basic standards of decent care, the outcomes of
incarceration have been disappointing, if not dismal, both in terms of recidivism and youths’
future success. In state after state, 70 to 80 percent of juveniles released from youth corrections
facilities are rearrested within two or three years for a new offense. Pitifully few of these youth
return to complete high school, and their long-term success in the labor market is severely
Abusive conditions that produce poor public safety and youth development outcomes are bad
enough, but the price tag for these results makes them still harder to accept. Nationally, we are
spending almost $6 billion annually on youth corrections and, in many states, the average cost per
bed, per year exceeds $200,000. At these prices, taxpayers and policymakers alike should be clamoring for excellence in youth corrections. Instead, we seem to have settled for disastrous outcomes
and abusive living conditions that we’d never accept if those confined were our own children.
Missouri’s approach offers a promising alternative. Since Missouri closed its training schools nearly
30 years ago, its youth corrections agency has consistently produced better outcomes than other
states without breaking the state’s budget. It has done so by offering a far more humane, constructive, and positive approach:

eschewing large institutions in favor of smaller group homes, camps, and treatment facilities;


 aintaining safety through relationships and eyes-on supervision rather than isolation and
correctional hardware; and


 roviding intensive youth development offered by dedicated youth development specialists rather
than correctional supervision by guards.

Missouri’s excellent results, described in detail in this guide, speak for themselves. They produce
far lower recidivism than other states, an impressive safety record, and positive youth outcomes—
all at a modest budget far smaller than that of many states with less-enviable outcomes.
The Missouri approach overcomes one of the key challenges facing our nation’s juvenile justice
systems. Thanks to the vision of its leaders, and to the dedication of its frontline staff, Missouri has


created an excellent model for how states can effectively supervise and treat the small number of
youthful offenders whose criminal behavior poses a significant threat to public safety.
But, for Missouri and virtually every other state, other key challenges persist. If we want youth
corrections to be smaller and more effective, we need to be better at diversion, probation, and
alternatives to incarceration. We need to narrow the pipeline of youth entering the system. We
must eliminate inappropriate or unnecessary reliance on secure (pretrial) detention, the gateway to
the system’s deep end. And we especially need more diverse and effective interventions in the community for the vast majority of delinquent youth who do not require or deserve confinement in
corrections facilities. Few in Missouri would argue its success on all these fronts, especially the key
issue of establishing a rich continuum of effective alternatives to incarceration for youth who break
the law and display serious behavior problems, but don’t pose a major public safety risk.
All of Casey’s work with troubled youth—and most of the available research—indicates that youth
are best served through interventions that, whenever possible, keep them at home and provide
targeted and evidence-based supports to help the young people and their families succeed. A
growing body of evidence shows that these home-based interventions work far better than incarceration. Thus far, no state, Missouri included, has invested proportionately to create a full-scale
network of such programs, and there is reason to fear that when a state’s institutional care is well
regarded, many juvenile justice officials might commit youth to correctional custody who could be
better served at home.
Sadly, there will probably always remain a cohort of delinquent youth whose behavior demands
correctional supervision. And for those youth, there is no better system than Missouri’s. We offer
this guidebook in hopes that it will inspire leaders in other states to embrace a new vision for
juvenile corrections based upon Missouri-style reforms.
For years, Missouri’s approach has been widely cited and often praised—but seldom replicated. We
hope that will change in the near future, and that this publication will help build the momentum
for this long-overdue reform movement.
Patrick T. McCarthy
President and CEO
The Annie E. Casey Foundation


A Better Approach to
Juvenile Corrections


sea change is on the horizon in juvenile
corrections. For more than a century, the
predominant model for the treatment, punishment, and rehabilitation of serious youthful
offenders has been static: confinement in a
large, congregate-care correctional facility.
While the labels assigned to these institutions
have changed periodically over the years—
reform school, training school, youth corrections facility—the institutions themselves have
changed little. In most states, these institutions
still house the bulk of all incarcerated youth
and still consume the lion’s share of taxpayer
spending on juvenile justice.


Unfortunately, the record of large juvenile
corrections facilities is dismal. Though many
youth confined in these institutions are not, in
fact, serious or chronic offenders, recidivism
rates are uniformly high. Violence and abuse
inside the facilities are alarmingly commonplace. The costs of correctional incarceration
vastly exceed those of other approaches to
delinquency treatment with equal or better outcomes, and the evidence shows that incarceration in juvenile facilities has serious and lifelong
negative impacts on confined youth.


According to Barry Feld, a leading juvenile
justice scholar at the University of Minnesota,
“Evaluation research indicates that incarcerating young offenders in large, congregatecare juvenile institutions does not effectively
rehabilitate and may actually harm them.” In
fact, writes Feld, “A century of experience with
training schools and youth prisons demonstrates that they constitute the one extensively


evaluated and clearly ineffective method to treat
Thankfully, the winds of change are beginning
to blow in juvenile corrections. A new wave
of reform is gathering force, dual-powered by
a growing recognition that the conventional
practices aren’t getting the job done, and by the
accumulating evidence that far better results
are available through a fundamentally different
Actually, there are two fundamentally different
(but complementary) approaches. One, not the
subject of this volume, is to substantially reduce
the population confined in juvenile correctional
institutions by screening out youth who pose
minimal dangers to public safety—placing
them instead into cost-effective, research- and
community-based rehabilitation and youth
development programs. In recent years, a
number of states (including Alabama, California, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina,
Ohio, and Texas, plus the District of Columbia) and localities (including Chicago, Detroit,
Albuquerque, and Santa Cruz) have systematically reduced their confined youth populations.
Tellingly, none of these jurisdictions has seen
a substantial uptick in crime as incarcerated
youth populations fell. Rather, most have seen
lower youth crime rates—and they have reaped
substantial savings for taxpayers as well.
The second approach, devised and employed
by the State of Missouri’s juvenile corrections
agency, the Division of Youth Services
(DYS), aims at the small minority of youth
offen­ders who must be removed from the
community to protect public safety. Departing sharply from the age-old training school
model, Missouri has eschewed large, prisonlike
correctional institutions in favor of smaller,
regionally dis­persed facilities. And instead of

standard-fare correctional supervision, Missouri
offers a demanding, carefully crafted, multilayered treatment experience designed to challenge troubled teens and to help them make
lasting behavioral changes and prepare for
successful transitions back to the community.
In recent years, interest in Missouri’s approach
has been snowballing. In 2001, the American
Youth Policy Center identified Missouri as a
“guiding light” for reform in juvenile justice.2
In 2003, the Annie E. Casey Foundation
profiled Missouri’s youth corrections success in
a widely circulated feature story.3
Since that time, hundreds of officials representing 30 states have visited Missouri to tour its
youth corrections facilities and learn about its
juvenile treatment model. These out-of-state
visitors often find these tours eye-opening.
Noting the civility, confidence, and openness of
the young people they meet, many ask, “Where
are the bad kids?”—not realizing that most
youth in DYS custody have long records, and
many have been adjudicated for serious and
violent offenses. (See Louisiana site visit sidebar
on page 24.)
In October 2007, the New York Times ran an
editorial labeling Missouri’s approach “the right
model for juvenile justice.”4 National Public
Radio aired a five-minute feature on Missouri’s
juvenile corrections system that same month,
and in December 2007 the Associated Press ran
a 2,600-word article highlighting Missouri’s
success in youth corrections on its national
newswire.5 In September 2008, Harvard
University’s Kennedy School of Government
named the Missouri Division of Youth Services
winner of its prestigious “Innovations in American Government” award in children and family
system reform. Finally, in September 2009,
ABC television network aired an hour-long


Departing sharply from
the age-old training
school model, Missouri
has eschewed large,
prisonlike correctional
institutions in favor
of smaller, regionally
dispersed facilities.


Percentage of Youth Sentenced to
Adult Prison within Three Years
of Release/Discharge

edition of its news magazine, Primetime, devoted
entirely to the Missouri youth corrections model.



The attention and accolades are well earned, as
evidenced by Missouri’s results across a host of
juvenile justice outcomes.







Until recently, few states measured the recidivism
of youth discharged from their youth corrections
facilities. Still today, the juvenile justice field has
not settled on a standard measure of recidivism,
and recidivism studies vary widely in their definitions of recidivism and in their methodologies
for calculating recidivism rates. Thus, comparing state recidivism rates is an inexact science.
However, several states do measure recidivism in
similar (if not identical) ways to Missouri, and in
every case Missouri’s outcomes appear far better.







Percentage of Youth Recommitted to
Juvenile Custody or Sentenced to Adult
Prison or Probation for a New Offense
within One Year of Release/Discharge





 rizona, Indiana, and Maryland have all
issued recidivism reports recently documenting the percentage of youth who were sentenced to adult prison within three years of
release from residential confinement in a
juvenile facility. The rates were 23.4 percent,
20.8 percent, and 26 percent, respectively.
By contrast, just 8.5 percent 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. (See figure 1.)


 lorida’s Department of Juvenile Justice has
reported that 28 percent of youth released from
residential confinement in 2003–2004 were
either recommitted to juvenile custody for a
new offense or sentenced to adult prison or
probation within one year of release. Among
Missouri youth discharged from DYS custody
in 2005, the comparable rate was just 17.1
percent. (See figure 2.)





Percentage of Youth Recommitted to
Juvenile Custody or Sentenced to
Adult Prison for a New Offense within
Two Years of Release/Discharge







• The

New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission
released a recidivism study in 2007 showing
that 36.7 percent of youth released from the
state’s juvenile correctional facilities in 2004
were either re-incarcerated in juvenile facilities
for a new offense or sentenced to adult prison
within two years. The comparable rate for Missouri youth released in 2005 was 14.5 percent.
(See figure 3.)


Three-Year Outcomes of Missouri
Youth Discharged from DYS
Custody in 2005

 ichigan’s youth corrections agency reported
in 2007 that 10 percent of youth released from
residential confinement between 2002 and
2005 were incarcerated as adults within 24
months of release. In Missouri, the two-year
adult incarceration rate (prison and 120-day
confinement) for youth discharged in 2005 was
7 percent.


Adult prison or 120-day incarceration 95
..... 20.6%

Adult probation


..... 5.5%

Recommitted to DYS
(but no adult prison or parole)





Law-abiding (no recommitment to
DYS or adult prison/probation)

 isconsin has reported that 17.5 percent of
youth released from juvenile confinement in
2005 were re-incarcerated within two years,
either as a juvenile or an adult, due to a new
offense—i.e., not a technical violation of
probation or parole. The comparable rate for
Missouri youth discharged from custody was
14.5 percent.


       FIGURE 5

Percentage of Youth Re-incarcerated in
Juvenile or Adult Correctional Facilities
for Either New Offenses or Rule Violations
within Three Years of Release from a
Juvenile Facility

Overall, of the 1,120 teens released for the
first time from a DYS facility in 2005, 90 were
subsequently recommitted to DYS for new
offenses following release—of whom 28 were
also incarcerated as adults or placed on probation
within three years of their initial release. Just 66
(5.9 percent) of the 1,120 youth released by DYS
were sentenced to state prison within 36 months,
29 (2.6 percent) were sentenced to a 120-day
adult correctional program, and 231 (20.6
percent) were sentenced to adult probation.
(See figure 4.)







DYS records also show that 110 of the 1,120
youth discharged from custody in 2005 returned
to DYS residential facilities briefly after breaking







felony offenders:
A Deeper Look at Missouri’s Recidivism Results

Compared with other states that calculate recidivism using similar definitions, Missouri’s results
are consistently lower. In many comparisons, youth exiting other states’ juvenile corrections
facilities are twice as likely (or more) to be re-incarcerated as youth served by Missouri DYS.
Some observers have questioned Missouri’s results, citing the fact that nearly half of the youth
in the DYS population do not have a felony as their committing offense. However, a closer
analysis shows that Missouri’s lower recidivism rates are not a byproduct of serving a less serious
offending population than other state systems. One reason is that many youth committed to DYS
for misdemeanors or status offenses have a prior history of felony offending. Overall, 712 of the
1,120 youth released from DYS custody for the first time in 2005 (64 percent) had a felony
adjudication on their records.
Moreover, these felony offenders are nearly as successful as other youth in avoiding further criminal justice involvement following their DYS commitments. Specifically, 37.2 percent of felony
offenders discharged from DYS custody in 2005 were either recommitted to DYS or sentenced
as adults to probation or confinement with the state corrections department within three years.
Put another way, 62.8 percent were successful in avoiding deep involvement with the justice
system for three years. The comparable success rate achieved among non-felony offenders was
only slightly better: 68.6 percent.
Likewise, the share of DYS felony offenders who were re-incarcerated for a new offense in
juvenile or adult correctional facilities within three years (16.3 percent) was nearly identical to
the rate for non-felony offenders (15.9 percent).
In other words, youth committed to DYS after being adjudicated for felony offenses, who make
up nearly two-thirds of the population served by DYS, are nearly as successful as those with less
serious offending histories—and far more successful than youthful offenders (regardless of their
prior offending histories) in other states.


rules or experiencing other problems while on
aftercare (i.e., after release from the facility but
prior to discharge from DYS custody)—usually
for one to three additional months. Because
youth on aftercare remain in DYS custody,
Missouri does not consider these cases failures
or include them in its official recidivism data.
However, when these temporary setbacks are
included in the recidivism results, Missouri’s
outcomes remain exceptionally strong—especially compared with states that re-incarcerate
large numbers of youth for violations of probation and parole rules. For instance, 43.3 percent
of youth released from Texas juvenile facilities
and 51.8 percent of Arizona youth released
from juvenile custody in 2005 were re-incarcerated in juvenile or adult correctional facilities
for rules violations or new offenses within three
years. The comparable rate for Missouri youth
released from custody in 2005 was just 24.3
percent. (See figure 5 on page 7.)

Like youth corrections agencies in other states,
DYS requires staff to file a critical incident
report whenever a young person is injured,
restrained, or held in isolation, and whenever a
youth attacks another youth or staff member, or
a staff member assaults a youth.
In November 2006, the staff of Ohio’s youth
corrections agency published a report comparing the Missouri and Ohio juvenile systems,
including a section on safety outcomes.6 The
study showed that while Ohio confined a little
more than twice as many youth per day as
Missouri in 2005 (average population of 1,752
in Ohio vs. 756 in Missouri), Ohio recorded
more than four times as many youth-on-youth
assaults as Missouri and nearly seven times
as many youth-on-staff assaults. Ohio also
recorded 41 sexual assaults statewide versus just
two in Missouri.

In addition, the Ohio report documented the
use of mechanical restraints and isolation, as
well as major property damage and theft, and
the reported differences were even more stark.
Even after factoring in the greater number of
Ohio youth in confinement, Ohio reported
using mechanical restraints two-and-one-half
times as often as Missouri, suffering major theft
or major property damage ($1,000 or more)
nearly 10 times as often, and placing youth into
isolation 245 times as often.

Safety Outcomes: Missouri vs. Ohio

Mechanical Restraints 	
Physical Damage	
or Theft	






2.5 : 1



245 : 1





9.5 : 1

(VALUED AT > $1,000)

Missouri’s safety record also stands out compared with the 97 facilities participating in the
Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators’
Performance-based Standards (PbS) project—
a mix of above-average facilities seeking to
optimize results and more problematic facilities
seeking to address safety issues and other serious
problems. According to data compiled by PbS
in October 2008 and by DYS in the spring of
2009, 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.7 Meanwhile, PbS facilities use mechanical restraints
17 times as often as DYS, and they use isolation
more than 200 times as often.*
* Figures for both PbS and DYS facilities are based on data selfreported by facility staff and cannot be verified independently.


Safety Outcomes: Missouri vs. Facilities
Participating in the Performance-based
Standards (PbS) Project


PbS : DYS	


	 4.5 : 1

Assaults on Youth	


Assaults on Staff	



14 : 1

Use of Mechanical Restraints		


17 : 1

Use of Isolation	


228 : 1


The final testament to Missouri’s success in
protecting the safety of confined youth relates
to suicide prevention. Not a single youth in
DYS custody has committed suicide in the
more than 25 years since the agency closed
its trainings schools. Nationwide, 110 suicide
deaths occurred in juvenile facilities from 1995
to 1999, and another 21 suicides occurred in
state juvenile facilities from 2002 to 2005.8
Educational Progress

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency has estimated that, on average, just 25
percent of confined juvenile offenders nationwide make one year of academic progress for
every year in custody.9 But in Missouri, where
every young person takes a standardized test at
entry and again before exiting a DYS facility,
three-fourths advance at least as fast as a typical student in public school. In addition, 90
percent of youth earn high school credits while
residing in a DYS facility.10

credits and earned high school diplomas—
meaning that one-fourth of all youth exiting a
DYS facility after their 16th birthdays completed their secondary education. Ohio, by
contrast, issued just 296 GEDs and 60 diplomas in 2005 despite serving a population older
and far larger than Missouri’s.11 (Ohio facilities
admitted 1,386 youth ages 16 and older in
2005 vs. just 506 in Missouri.) Likewise, South
Carolina juvenile corrections facilities issued
just 131 GEDs and 3 high school diplomas in
2005–2006, despite an average daily population
nearly twice as large as DYS.12

Educational Progress





National Average	




*This figure is an average of youth committed to Missouri
Division of Youth Services custody who made adequate
progress in reading (76.1 percent) and math (73.3 percent)
during fiscal year 2007.

Transitions to Community

DYS has also achieved excellent success in
helping participants earn a GED or high school
diploma.* In 2008, 278 DYS residents passed
the GED exam, and 36 completed all required

While few states track or report on the success
of youth exiting juvenile corrections facilities in enrolling in school and securing legal
employment, there is no doubt that a high
percentage of youth in most states remain
disconnected from school and work following
release. According to one study, just 12 percent
of formerly incarcerated youth earned a high
school diploma or GED by young adulthood,
compared to a national average of 74 percent.13

*Two DYS teens earned both a GED and a regular diploma
in 2008.

“Delinquent youth [returning from correctional
placements] are likely to have great difficulty


     New York Times Dubs Missouri

“the right model for
juvenile justice”
Excerpt from an October 28, 2007, New York Times editorial.
With the prisons filled to bursting, state governments are desperate for ways to keep more
people from committing crimes and ending up behind bars. Part of the problem lies in the juvenile justice system, which is doing a frighteningly effective job of turning nonviolent childhood
offenders into mature, hardened criminals. States that want to change that are increasingly looking to Missouri, which has turned its juvenile justice system into a nationally recognized model
of how to deal effectively with troubled children…
Missouri has abandoned mass kiddie prisons in favor of small community-based centers that
stress therapy, not punishment…
A law-and-order state, Missouri was working against its own nature when it embarked on this
project about 25 years ago. But with favorable data piling up, and thousands of young lives
saved, the state is now showing the way out of the juvenile justice crisis.

returning to school unless they receive special
interventions, and these are in short supply,”
report criminologists David Altschuler and
Rachel Brash. “School systems have often not
been receptive to enrolling juvenile offenders.”14
Bucking this trend, DYS does provide “special
interventions” to facilitate school enrollment
and post-release success of formerly confined
Missouri youth. By employing a comprehensive
case management system and providing intensive aftercare support, Missouri enabled the vast
majority of youth exiting DYS custody in 2008
(85.3 percent) to be productively engaged in
school, college, and/or employment at the time
of discharge.15


Given all of these strong results, another
impressive feature of Missouri’s approach to
youth corrections is its relatively low cost to
Due to peculiarities in Missouri’s budgeting
process, the official budget for the Division of
Youth Services—$63 million in 2008—substantially understates the actual cost of services
by excluding fringe benefits of DYS employees
and some central administrative costs. However, even a more realistic DYS budget estimated at $87 million—equivalent to $155


for each young person of juvenile age* statewide16—would still represent a cost to taxpayers
that is lower than or comparable to the juvenile
corrections costs in most states and substantially
less than some.

Missouri’s unconventional approach to
youth corrections
has sustained political
support for nearly
three decades under
governors from both
political parties.

For instance, Missouri’s spending on youth
corrections appears higher than that of Arizona
and Indiana, but far lower than Maryland and
Florida.** Not including costs for juvenile
probation, which is a state function in Maryland but not Missouri, Maryland’s juvenile
corrections agency spends more than $270 for
every young person of juvenile age. Florida
spends over $220 for every young person, not
including costs for probation and detention,
which are state-run in Florida but operated
locally in Missouri.17
One key factor in Missouri’s ability to keep
costs down is the relatively brief period of
confinement for DYS youth—typically ranging
from 4–6 months for youth placed in non­
secure group homes to 9–12 months for youth
in secure confinement. Many states retain
youth in custody far longer. For instance,
the average length of stay in North Carolina
juvenile facilities was 386 days in 2007,18 while
California youth average three years in confinement.19 Also, unlike Missouri, many states
commonly return youth for long recommitments if they violate behavioral rules while on
aftercare. Another factor in Missouri’s modest
juvenile justice costs are the salaries paid to
DYS workers, which are lower than those of
youth corrections workers in many states.
*The juvenile-age population in Missouri includes all young
people between the ages of 10 and 16, because juvenile court
jurisdiction ends at age 16. Any Missouri offender aged 17 or
older is considered an adult.
**The juvenile-age population in Maryland and Florida includes
all young people between the ages of 10 and 17, because juvenile court jurisdiction in those states ends at age 17.


Ultimately, the greatest source of savings generated by the Division of Youth Services derives
from the success of program graduates in avoiding future crimes. Criminologists estimate that
steering just one high-risk delinquent teen away
from a life of crime saves society $3 million to
$6 million in reduced victim costs and criminal
justice expenses, plus increased wages and tax
payments over the young person’s lifetime.20
Missouri’s current director of adult corrections,
George Lombardi, credits DYS with saving the
state millions of dollars by reducing the recidivism of juvenile offenders into adult prisons.21

Thanks to these many demonstrated benefits,
Missouri’s unconventional approach to youth
corrections has sustained political support for
nearly three decades under governors from both
political parties—including tough-on-crime
conservatives such as former U.S. Attorney
General John Ashcroft, who served as Missouri’s
governor from 1985–93.
In other states, too, the need for Missouri-style
change is urgent. For the well-being of troubled
youth, for the safety of citizens and communities, for the fiscal health of states and the bank
accounts of taxpayers, the Missouri model for
youth corrections offers substantial advantages
over the training school approaches still pervasive throughout most of the nation.
This monograph has been compiled as a tool
to help officials and advocates in other states
support this needed change. The first clear and
detailed description of the Missouri approach,
this report includes information on both the
nuts and bolts of Missouri’s methods, and the
underlying values and beliefs that guide its
heartening success.

Nuts and Bolts of the
Missouri Model


hen you ask leaders of the Missouri
Division of Youth Services about the
keys to the agency’s success, they invariably
speak first of values and beliefs—and about
their agency-wide commitment to helping
delinquent youth make deep and lasting
changes that enable them to avoid negative
(criminal, anti-social, self-destructive) behaviors
and to begin on a pathway to success.
In pursuing this purpose, however, DYS has
built a unique therapeutic treatment system
with many attributes that distinguish it from
the youth corrections systems in other states
and provide a window into its success.


Developed and fine-tuned over many years, the
Missouri youth corrections model is epitomized
by six core characteristics:
one. Missouri places youth who require con-

finement into smaller facilities located near the
youths’ homes and families, rather than incarcerating delinquent youth in large, far-away,
prisonlike training schools.
two. 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.
three. 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 constant staff supervision and


Missouri Juvenile Justice

system overview
• There

are 45 separate juvenile circuits and 24 locally operated juvenile detention centers.

• Juvenile

probation is operated locally in the 10 largest counties, and by state courts in the

remainder of the state.
• At

age 17, a youth is considered an adult for new law violations.

• Youth

can be transferred to adult court only at the discretion of a judge—no statutory waivers

or direct file by prosecutors—and only about 120 cases per year are transferred. Judges 	
may also assign youth to a “dual jurisdiction” program in which they receive adult sentences 	
but are treated initially in the juvenile system and can have their adult prison sentences
suspended by a judge if they respond favorably to juvenile treatment.
• The

state’s juvenile corrections agency, the Division of Youth Services, is a part of the Missouri

Department of Social Services.

typically retains jurisdiction for juvenile offenders until discharged or until the youth

reaches age 18, or in dual jurisdiction cases until age 21.
• In

addition to supervising juvenile offenders committed to its care, DYS administers a

$4 million per year Juvenile Court Diversion program that provides funding to help local courts
strengthen their community-based programs and reduce commitments to state custody.

supportive peer relationships rather than
through coercive techniques that are commonplace in most youth corrections systems.
four. 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.


five. 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.
six. 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.

The following pages detail the nuts and bolts
for each of the six unique elements of the
Missouri approach.

one: Small and Non-Prisonlike
Facilities, Close to Home
When the Annie E. Casey Foundation profiled
the Missouri Division of Youth Services in 2003
for its magazine, AdvoCasey, the feature story
was entitled “Small Is Beautiful.”
Indeed, perhaps the most obvious difference
between Missouri’s youth correctional facilities
and those in other states is size. Whereas most
youth confined in state juvenile correctional
facilities nationwide are housed in institutions with more than 150 beds,22 the largest
of Missouri’s 32 residential youth corrections
programs has only 50 beds.* Each of the seven
secure care facilities serves 36 youth or fewer.
Missouri’s reliance on small facilities is recent.
From 1887 until 1983, the Boonville Training School—a 158-acre campus of two-story
brick residence halls—was Missouri’s primary
correctional facility for boys, holding up to 650
teens at a time. Youths’ treatment at Boonville
was often harsh, and violence was commonplace—resulting in a steady stream of alarming
news headlines spanning several decades. In the
1970s, DYS began to experiment with smaller
and more therapeutic correctional programs.
*These 32 programs are located on a total of 26 campuses,
including one campus with six different programs. However,
individual programs at this site have completely separate
buildings, staff, and administrative leadership, and interaction
between youth in different programs is minimal.

Liking the results, and tired of endless scandals at Boonville, Missouri’s legislature and
executive leadership shut down the Boonville
training school in 1983 and donated the facility
to the state’s Department of Corrections, which
turned it into an adult penitentiary.
In place of Boonville, as well as a training
school for girls in Chillicothe that closed in
1981, DYS secured smaller sites across the
state—abandoned school buildings, large residential homes, even a convent—and outfitted
them to house delinquent teens. The largest of
the new units housed just 30 to 36 teens. In
addition, DYS continued to operate programs
in two sites with capacity for 50 youth (five
groups of ten), as well as six small but separate
programs with combined capacity for 100
youth, which operate inside the same park in
St. Louis County.
The Importance of Facility Size

According to both Missouri insiders and
national justice experts, Missouri’s switch to
smaller facilities was crucial to improving its
juvenile corrections system. Paul DeMuro, a
veteran juvenile justice consultant, suggests,
“The most important thing in dealing with
youthful offenders is the relationships, the oneon-one relationships formed between young
people and staff. And not just the line staff. It’s
critical that the director of the facility know
every kid by name.”
Ned Loughran, executive director of the
Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, warns, “The kids coming into juvenile
facilities need a lot of specialized attention, and
they need to develop a relationship with staff.”
Loughran adds, “A small facility allows the staff
to get to know the kids on a very individual
basis. The kids interact better with peers and
staff. ” Large facilities routinely suffer with high


“If you are just
sitting in a cell with
nobody to help you
there is not much
you are learning.”
—DYS Student

rates of staff turnover and absenteeism, “so the
kids spend a lot of time sitting in their rooms…
With large [facilities] it’s like going to a large
urban high school. Kids get lost, and these kids
can’t afford to get lost.”	
A Regional Continuum

Several states measure
recidivism in similar (if
not identical) ways to
Missouri, and in every
case Missouri’s outcomes appear far better.

In addition to the individualized attention they
foster, smaller facilities have allowed Missouri
to localize programming and avoid shipping
delinquent young people to distant facilities far
from their homes and communities.
Since closing the training schools in the early
1980s, DYS has divided the state into five
regions and erected a complete four-level
continuum of programs and facilities in each,
Community care. DYS places committed

youth with the least serious offending histories and the lowest likelihood of reoffending
into community-based supervision programs.
Statewide, 12 percent of DYS youth are placed
directly in these non-residential services. Many
of these youth are assigned to “day treatment”
centers, where they spend from 8:00 a.m. to
3:00 p.m. every weekday in a combination
of academic education and counseling. After
school, many participate in community service
or academic tutoring activities, or in individual
or family counseling. (The state’s 10 day treatment programs, which serve up to 171 youth
on any given day, also serve as a step-down for
some youth following their time in a residential
program.) Other youth in community care
attend regular schools but are actively supervised by a DYS case manager (known as a “service coordinator”), and they may receive family
counseling, intensive supervision and support
from community-based mentors, counseling or


support groups, job placement assistance, life
skills training, or other services.
Group homes. Youth with limited offending

histories and a low risk of reoffending are often
referred to one of the seven nonsecure group
homes scattered throughout the state. Each
of these group homes typically houses 10–12
youth who have committed only status offenses
or misdemeanors—young people who pose
little danger to the community but require
more structure, support, and supervision than
their families can provide. Group home youth
attend school onsite, not in public schools,
but they spend considerable time away from
their facilities in jobs, group projects, and other
community activities. Within the facilities, they
participate in extensive individual, group, and
family counseling. The typical stay in a group
home lasts four to six months.
Moderately secure facilities. Youth with

somewhat more serious offending histories or
higher risk levels are placed into one of the
state’s 20 moderately secure facilities located
in residential neighborhoods, state parks, and
two college campuses. Though many youth
sent to these facilities have been adjudicated
for felony offenses, they too spend time in
the community. Closely supervised by staff,
residents regularly go on field trips and undertake community service projects. Those who
make progress in the counseling component of
the program and demonstrate trustworthiness
are often allowed to perform jobs with local
nonprofit or government agencies as part of
DYS’ extensive work experience program. The
typical stay in a moderate care facility lasts six
to nine months.
Secure care facilities. For the most serious
offenders referred by Missouri juvenile courts,
DYS operates seven secure care residential

an inglorious history:
Now a Model, Missouri’s Youth Justice System Was Once Scandalous

Though highly regarded today, Missouri’s juvenile corrections system has not always been exemplary. Indeed, for many decades it was plagued by severe, even shameful problems at its primary
correctional facility for boys, the Boonville Training School.
Until its closure in 1983, Boonville was repeatedly cited for severe abuses. Soon after losing his
job in 1949, for instance, former Boonville Superintendent John Tindall described the facility in
the St. Louis Post Dispatch: “I saw black eyes, battered faces, broken noses among the boys,”
Tindall wrote.23 Three boys died inside the facility in 1948 alone. Conditions remained problematic from the 1950s through the 1970s, reported University of Missouri law professor Douglas
Abrams in his history of the state’s juvenile courts published in 2003.24 A 1969 federal report
condemned Boonville’s quasi-penal-military atmosphere, particularly the practice of banishing
unruly youth to the Hole—a dark, solitary confinement room atop the facility’s administration
The seeds of change were finally planted during the 1970s, when DYS began to experiment
with smaller and more therapeutic correctional programs. Liking the results, and tired of endless
scandals at Boonville, Missouri’s legislature shut down the Boonville training school in 1983—
donating the facility to the state’s Department of Corrections, which turned it into an adult
In place of Boonville, as well as a training school for girls in Chillicothe that closed in 1981,
DYS secured smaller sites across the state—abandoned school buildings, large residential
homes, even a convent—and outfitted them to house delinquent teens. The largest of the new
units housed only three-dozen teens, and DYS made group treatment the core of its rehabilitative approach in every facility.
These changes were momentous. However, they did not signal the end of reform in Missouri—
but only the beginning. Indeed, Missouri leaders have continued ever since 1983 to build on
and improve its programs and services—and also to cultivate support from political and civic
leaders throughout the state, and across the political spectrum.
For states struggling to combat deep problems in their youth corrections systems, Missouri’s
message is twofold: (1) no matter how troubled your system may be today, success is possible,
and (2) the answer lies not in any single reform, but rather a long-term commitment to
continuous improvement.


facilities, each with a typical daily population
of 30 youth and a maximum capacity of 36.
Unlike other DYS facilities, the secure care
youth centers are surrounded by a perimeter
fence and are locked at all times. In most ways,
the daily activities in secure care facilities are
similar to those in less secure residential settings. However, youth confined in secure care
participate less frequently in activities outside
their facilities. Instead, secure care programs
often bring the community into the facility for
activities and experiences, and then gradually
reintroduce youth into the community as they
progress in the treatment program and demonstrate readiness. The typical stay in a secure
care facility lasts nine to twelve months (but
can extend longer if the young person fails to
progress in treatment or demonstrate readiness
for release).

In addition to these regional facilities, DYS also
operates a single facility for youthful offenders
placed into Missouri’s dual jurisdiction program. This program was created in the mid1990s at a time when many states drastically
increased the number of youth transferred to
adult courts and correctional systems. Missouri largely steered clear of wholesale transfers.
Instead, it created a new alternative in which
young people who are tried and convicted as
adults can be given a “blended sentence” in the
adult and juvenile systems. The adult sentence
is suspended initially, and the youth is assigned
to the DYS dual jurisdiction facility where they
receive the same treatment regimen as youth in
other DYS programs. Prior to their 21st birthdays, these youth return to court where a judge
decides whether to release them outright, place
them on adult probation, or impose the adult
sentence and transfer them to prison.

Missouri DYS

population overview
 ,250+ youth committed to DYS custody
each year; over 2,800 served

Committing offenses
• 51%


• 82%

male; 18% female

• 38%


• 45%

16 and over

• 11%

juvenile offenses

• 66%

from metro areas

• Age

Educational disability and mental
health conditions

• 75%


of young people served ranges
from 10–21
from single-parent (57%) or
step-parent families (18%)

34% educational disability

• 49%

prior mental health condition;
38% with an active diagnosis

*As detailed in the sidebar on p. 8, many DYS youth whose committing offense is a misdemeanor or juvenile offense have
previously been adjudicated for felony offenses. Overall, 64 percent of DYS youth have a history of felony offending.


Not a single youth in DYS 	
custody has committed suicide in
the more than 25 years since the
agency closed its trainings schools.   
Of the 64 young people referred to the dual
jurisdiction program since 1996, 39 had
successfully completed DYS treatment by
November 2008. (Another 18 remained in
DYS custody, and seven had been transferred
to prison because they did not respond to
DYS treatment.) Among the 39 youth who
completed DYS treatment, all were placed on
probation by judges rather than transferred
directly to prison, and 31 had avoided prison
since release—a success rate of 79.5 percent.
A Non-Institutional Environment

Regardless of the level of care, DYS facilities are designed and furnished in a distinctly
non-correctional style. At every level, youth
sleep not in cold concrete cells but in carpeted,
warmly appointed dorm rooms containing
10–12 beds, with a dresser and closet space for
each young person. Youth in even the most
secure facilities are permitted to dress in their
own clothes, not correctional uniforms, and
to keep personal mementos on their dressers.
In most facilities, each dorm is part of a larger
“pod” that also includes a living room furnished
with couches and coffee tables, plus a “treatment room” where the team meets for 60 to
90 minutes every evening and youth talk about
their personal histories, their future goals, and
the roots of their delinquent behavior.

No iron bars—indeed, little security hardware
of any type—are visible in DYS facilities,
though the secure care facilities are surrounded
by security fences. Instead, facility walls are
adorned with handmade posters and colorful
bulletin boards displaying residents’ writings
and art work. Many facilities have live plants.
One has an elaborate fountain constructed by
residents, and all have at least some type of
pet—ranging from dogs and cats to live chickens, even an iguana. The pets help make the
environment of the facilities “more humane,”
says DYS Director Tim Decker. In some cases,
they are also a focus of student projects. In one
facility, the residents raise chickens and harvest
eggs. In another, a secure care facility, youth are
working with dogs rescued from the Humane
Society and retraining them for adoption by
area families.
This hospitable physical environment is reinforced by the social atmosphere within DYS
facilities. Confined youth address DYS staff—
even the agency director and other administrative leaders—by their first names. Staff are
trained to welcome youths’ questions, and to
treat youths’ ideas and opinions with respect.
“Why I think they’re such a good system is that
they have preserved the community aspect even
in the secure programs,” says Ned Loughran.
“When you visit, you can see that they’re not


institutional. They’ve been able to preserve…a
family atmosphere.”

loss of privileges) typically meted out in conventional youth correctional facilities.

two: Individual Care Within a Group
Treatment Model
The Importance of Groups

Every young person
committed to DYS
custody is immediately
assigned to a single
staff person—known
as a service coordinator—who will oversee
his or her case before,
during, and after placement in a DYS facility.

In every DYS residential facility, at every level,
each young person spends virtually every
minute, night and day, with his or her treatment team. The teams, which typically number
10–12 youth, sleep in the same dorm room,
eat together, study together, exercise together,
do chores together, and attend daily therapy
sessions together—always under the watchful supervision of DYS youth specialists. The
groups have rotating entry and exit: young
people leave the group and head home as soon
as they demonstrate readiness for release, and
new youth come in to take their place.
These small groups serve as the crucible in
which the DYS treatment process attains focus
and intensity. The constancy of the group does
not allow young people to hide or withdraw.
Rather, the youth remain under the watchful
eyes of not only staff, but also their peers, and
they are held accountable by the group for any
disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive behavior. Rather than facing isolation or punishment
when they act out, youth are called upon to
explain their thoughts and feelings, explore how
the current misbehavior relates to the lawbreaking that resulted in their incarceration, and
reflect on how their behavior impacts others.
These challenging conversations are a frequent
facet of the group treatment experience. At least
at the outset of their DYS confinement, many
youth find this type of interpersonal accountability far more difficult than the forms of
accountability (isolation, mechanical restraints,


The DYS commitment to group treatment is
so strong that—other than managing psychotropic medications—the agency seldom offers
individual psychotherapy for any of the 49
percent of confined youth who come to DYS
with identified mental health problems.* “The
group is the primary treatment modality in our
system, and nothing is allowed to supplant the
group process,” says Tim Decker. “When one
region became more reliant on clinical therapy,
we found that staff began undervaluing their
own expertise and deferring to the therapists,
and the kids weren’t doing as well. So we do
sometimes provide individual therapy, when
a youth has special needs, but everything is
subordinate to the group process.”
On the other hand, many youth do participate
in family therapy while confined in DYS facilities—generally toward the end of their stay as
they prepare to return home. Often, the request
for family therapy comes from the treatment
team staff or service coordinator, and the DYS
family therapists work closely with facility staff
to make sure that family therapy supports and
reinforces the group treatment process.
Another testament to DYS’ intense commitment to group treatment can be seen in
its policy requiring groups to attend school
together, with a dedicated teacher, rather than
dividing youth by ability level and allowing
them to attend classes with similarly skilled
youth from other groups. Given the wide range
in educational ability among confined youth
*When youth exhibit extremely severe mental health
problems, DYS reserves the option to purchase placement in
private residential psychiatric treatment centers rather than
place them in a DYS facility. However, DYS leaders report
that fewer than 10 youth per year are sent to private treatment
for this reason.

(elementary school level, middle school level,
and pre-GED level, plus youth with learning
disabilities), this policy clearly adds a degree of
difficulty to the challenges facing DYS teachers—how to individualize instruction to the
needs and abilities of each student. The practice
also limits DYS’ ability to provide specialized
courses for more advanced students. DYS leaders acknowledge those concerns, but they note
that DYS classrooms have very high teacherstudent ratios—one certified teacher plus a
youth specialist (typically certified as a substitute teacher) working with a class of a dozen or
fewer students. They also point to the results
cited in the previous chapter: the overwhelming majority of DYS youth learn faster than
their same-age peers in public school, and more
than 300 earned a GED certificate and/or high
school diploma in 2008 (even though virtually
all youth are under 18 at the time of discharge
from DYS).

Individualizing Care Within the Group Context

Despite its avid adherence to a group treatment
approach, DYS employs many techniques to
individualize the treatment process for each
young person—beginning the very first day of
their commitment.
Individualized case management. Perhaps the
most important DYS strategy to individualize care is its case management system. Every
young person committed to DYS custody is
immediately assigned to a single staff person—
known as a service coordinator—who will
oversee his or her case before, during, and
after placement in a DYS facility. The service
coordinator conducts an initial risk- and needsassessment process, measuring risk of reoffending and the seriousness of current and past
offenses, as well as his or her treatment needs.
Based on the results of the risk assessment, the
service coordinator determines the level of care
appropriate for the young person as detailed in


Placement / Leng th of Stay
Most Serious

Moderately Secure
LOS = 6–9 months

Secure Residential
LOS = 9–12 months	

Secure Residential
LOS = 9–12+ months	


LOS = 4–6 months

Moderately Secure
LOS = 6–9 months

Secure Residential
LOS = 9–12+ months

Least Serious

LOS = 1–6 months

LOS = 4–6 months

Moderately Secure
LOS = 6–9 months

Lowest Risk

Moderate Risk

Highest Risk





the chart on page 21. The service coordinator
then serves as an ongoing point person with
the youth’s parents and other family members
during the period of confinement, and makes
visits on at least a monthly basis to check on
the young person’s progress in the facility. The
service coordinators are actively involved in the
decision over when each young person should
return home, and they are the primary person
in developing a pre-release success plan for the
young person and in supervising him or her
in the critical phase of aftercare supervision.
Statewide, DYS employs 102 service coordinators and supervisors spread across the agency’s
five regions.
Indeterminate sentencing. With cooperation
from juvenile judges across Missouri, DYS also
individualizes treatment for delinquent youth
by adjusting the length of confinement based
on their progress in treatment and readiness to
return safely to community life. In most states,
juvenile judges either sentence youth to a fixed
period of confinement—like an adult convict—
or they require state corrections officials to
seek judicial approval before releasing youth
from correctional facilities, placing them on
aftercare, or releasing them entirely from state

In 82 percent of Missouri cases, once judges
commit a youth to DYS custody they cede
responsibility for all subsequent decisions to
DYS—granting DYS the responsibility to
determine whether to place the young person
into a residential program (and at what security
level), how long to hold them, when to release
them, and how long to supervise them on aftercare status.* Indeterminate sentences also allow
DYS to move a youth back and forth between
*In many of the remaining cases, judges order residential care
but allow DYS to determine the level of residential care and
the length of stay.


residential and community care, permitting
DYS staff to reconfine a young person who
struggles in the aftercare period or exhibits risks
for reoffending.
The indeterminate sentencing is significant on
two levels, say Missouri officials. First, it allows
DYS to customize each young person’s treatment and make the young people themselves
responsible for their own length of stay. This
creates a powerful incentive for positive participation: if youth cooperate, participate actively,
and complete the required stages of treatment
promptly, their stay will likely be shorter;
but if youth hold back, undermine, slack off,
and avoid the treatment tasks, their stay will
likely be longer. Releases are based on youths’
progress and readiness, not an arbitrary release
date. Second, the fact that the vast majority of
juvenile judges choose to grant indeterminate
sentences—even when state law allows them
to retain control—illustrates the goodwill DYS
has built with the states’ judiciary and the deep
faith judges have developed in the DYS treatment system.	
Level system. With most youth entering its

facilities without any fixed date for returning
home, DYS employs a level system to track
progress and determine each young person’s
readiness for release. Though the terms and definitions vary slightly by region, DYS generally
considers its treatment process in four stages:
Orientation, during which young people
become acclimated to the procedures, expectations, and environment of the DYS facility;

• Self-discovery, where young people enter the
self-exploration process and begin seeing how
their current problems and behaviors are rooted
in their personal and family histories, and
where they take responsibility for their past
crimes and misdeeds;

Integration, when young people begin applying the lessons they’re learning about themselves
in the here-and-now, by taking on a leadership
role within their group, reopening channels of
positive communications with their parents and
other family members, and applying themselves
in new jobs, community service projects, and
other learning activities; and


Transition, where youth begin working with
facility staff, their service coordinators, and
their families to develop a plan for success when
they return home.


DYS provides no hard-and-fast benchmarks to
delineate when a young person has moved from
the self-discovery phase into integration, for
instance, or integration into transition. Rather,
each young person’s movement from one level
to the next is determined subjectively by the
staff team, with input from other youth in the
group, in consultation with the youth’s service
coordinator. The most important facet of this
process is that—other than youth who age out
of the system—no young person leaves a DYS
facility until he or she completes the levels and
demonstrates both the desire and the skills to
succeed and remain crime-free upon release.
Self-exploration via daily group treatment
sessions. At every residential DYS facility, each

group meets every evening to talk about their
personal histories, their future goals, and the
roots of their delinquent behavior. Some days
the teens participate in group-builders—shared
activities designed to build comradery, discuss
the impact of their crimes on victims, and help
teens explore issues like trust, perceptions, and
communication. Other days, the treatment
session is spent dealing with an event or issue
that has surfaced in a group member’s life—a
difficult family visit or phone home, a problematic behavior that persists—or a tension that

has arisen between two or more members of the
But in many meetings, one particular teen will
talk to the group about his or her life. Indeed,
over the course of their stays, a young person
will typically lead at least five sessions dedicated
to the core exercises in the DYS treatment
process. The first is a “who am I?” exercise in
which youth list their favorite people, foods,
cars, movies, etc. In subsequent sessions, the
topics become more personal. In the “life history,” teens are asked to—and often do—talk
about wrenching experiences in their lives:
domestic abuse, violence, sexual victimization,
and family negligence. They are also encouraged to speak about their crimes, mistakes, and
other misdeeds. In the “genogram,” teens spend
the hour describing and answering questions
about a coded family tree (prepared in advance,
with the help of a staff mentor)—detailing the
incidence of domestic violence, alcoholism,
drug addiction, criminality, illiteracy, and other
pathologies in their families—as a first step
toward exploring the historic roots of their own
behavioral problems. For the “line of body,”
confined adolescents describe and discuss a
large sheet of paper onto which they have
traced their bodies and then written in the most
searing physical and mental traumas they have
suffered during their young lives. In the final
session, “success plan,” youth nearing departure
from the facility describe to their peers—and
hear questions and feedback on—all the steps
they will take to maximize their chances of success following release.
The sessions take place in a separate treatment
room, part of the each group’s living area (or
pod), facilitated not by licensed therapists but
by the team’s group leader or another of the
team’s more experienced youth specialists. Every
young person attends and takes part in every


In this “line of body”
drawing, a 15-year-old
DYS resident has traced
all of the physical and
emotional scars of his
young life. The line of
body is one of several
exercises youth undertake as part of the DYS
treatment process.

For Louisiana Leaders, Visiting a DYS Facility Proves  

an eye-opening
The following scene from a site visit to the DYS facility at Watkins Mill State Park is excerpted
from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Spring 2003 issue of AdvoCasey.

After driving through the entry gates of the Watkins Mill State Park one gray November afternoon, two dozen well-dressed powerbrokers traverse a gravel parking lot and approach a non­
descript wood frame building. The front door is unlocked.
Inside, the walls are decorated with crepe paper, and the air is infused with the welcoming
aroma of hot cider. A half-dozen teens—African Americans and whites, boys and girls—greet
the visitors warmly.
Though they have been sentenced here for serious (but mostly nonviolent) crimes, the youth are
dressed in their own clothes—no jumpsuits, no military crew cuts. The teens laugh and joke
with their staff, they look visitors in the eye, they smile easily as they offer up cider and a snack.
Most of the visitors have come from Louisiana, members of a commission established by the state
legislature to explore reforms of the Bayou State’s deeply troubled juvenile corrections system.
The group is understandably tired. This is stop number three today in a whirlwind tour of juvenile facilities in and around Kansas City. But something about this site sparks their attention:
There are no fences here, and no heavy locked doors. The path to escape is wide open.
“Why don’t you run?” asks one member of the delegation, a county judge. “Do you ever think
about running?”
The question is posed to a tall, slender 16-year-old with a speech impediment and deep scars
crisscrossing his face.
“I did when I first got here,” the boy says. “I was making my plan. But then I saw that the other
kids weren’t going anywhere, they were thinking about their futures. And I saw that the staff
here really cared. So I changed my mind.
“I’m in here because I stole a car and crashed it going 85 miles an hour,” the boy continued,
his voice suddenly trembling. “I need to get this surgery finished. I need to make some different
choices. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life running.”
That evening, at a going-away dinner in downtown Kansas City, Louisiana representative Diane
Winston stood up at a podium and confessed that “until now, this issue of juvenile justice has
just been words and numbers to me. But this tour has really put a human face on the issue for
me. It’s a face of hope.”


session, and all are encouraged to participate
by asking questions and offering advice and
support. Staff are provided extensive training
in facilitating the treatment sessions, and they
concentrate on keeping the discussion respectful at all times, focused on the youth making
his or her presentation, with a minimum of side
conversations and other distractions.
Dedicated staff mentors. As individual DYS

youth create their genogram, trace their line
of body, and prepare for each of the other
elements of their treatment process, they are
guided and supervised by one of the DYS youth
specialists assigned to staff the group on an
ongoing basis. The staff mentor—often referred
to as a “one-on-one”—is identified as soon as
the young person is assigned to the facility, and
the mentor reaches out immediately to provide
support and advice. Throughout the young
person’s stay, the one-on-one will check in with
him or her several times per week—acting as
a sounding board and providing support if
the young person feels that another youth (or
a small clique of them) is teasing or harassing him or her, if he or she is having problems
with a particular staff member, or if there’s a
problem in the youth’s family. Then, when the
group’s staff team holds its weekly meeting,
the one-on-one will lead the discussion of the
young person’s progress—including any talk
about whether the youth should be recognized
for completing his/her current level and moving
to the next.

three: Safety Through Relationships
and Supervision, Not Correctional
The success of the DYS approach—indeed, the
entire Missouri model—depends on helping
troubled and chronically delinquent young
people make deep and lasting changes in how

they behave, think, view themselves, and foresee
their futures.
To make those changes, youth undergo a process of sometimes searing self-reflection. They
learn about themselves, repair relationships with
family, develop their social and emotional competence, and grapple with their plans for the
future. In the course of this process, many will
need to reveal and talk about painful aspects of
their pasts and repair relationships with family.
Change is hard—inner change most of all.
Before a process leading toward change can
even begin, however, there must be safety—not
just physical safety, but emotional safety as
well—because without it youth are unlikely to
proceed in their personal treatment process.
Youth who feel disrespected are likely to act
out against their peers—or may even become
a danger for self-harm. “Kids need to know
they’re not going to be ridiculed or humiliated,”
says Phyllis Becker, the deputy director of DYS.
However, in most juvenile facilities nationwide,
physical and emotional safety are scarce commodities. Fights are commonplace, threats and
name-calling even more so. Youth are subject to
ridicule for any perceived weakness, any area of
differentness—a different skin color or accent.
Geographic rivalries—and sometimes gang
rivalries—roil beneath the surface and occasionally explode. The dangers are particularly
acute during free time periods when youth are
supervised by correctional officers—guards—
who typically stand apart from youth, watching
from afar. When an incident does arise, youth
are often shackled, or handcuffed, sometimes
pepper sprayed, then placed into isolation cells
for days or weeks as punishment.
Missouri employs an entirely different
approach. Rather than trying to impose safety
through coercive correctional practices, DYS


Before a process
leading toward change
can even begin, there
must be safety—not
just physical safety,
but emotional safety as
well—because without
it youth are unlikely to
proceed in their personal
treatment process.

waking up
To the Promise of Juvenile Corrections Reform

Reprinted from the Missouri Division of Youth Services’ successful application to Harvard University’s
Innovations in American Government awards competition. In 2008, DYS was recognized as the
outstanding innovation in children and family system reform nationwide.
To understand how the Missouri Department of Social Services’ Division of Youth Services’ innovation has
changed practice, imagine for just a moment that you’re 16 years old. You lie awake in your metal bunk-bed
in a large unfurnished barracks-style room. You look around the unit and see 48 other young men in their
prison-issued orange jumpsuits, one part of a large secure facility serving 350. You can’t help but wonder how
your life got out of hand so quickly. You can barely remember the abuse that has scarred you so deeply. You
haven’t seen your family for months. They live 150 miles away. You gently rub the bruised area around your
eye and wonder when your rival will return from his isolation cell. He’s spent 3 days there, 23 hours a day,
and has to be even angrier. The uniformed guards are across the way with billy-clubs and mace just in case
something starts. You can’t remember their names, but it really doesn’t matter because everyone calls them
“officer” or “sir”. You’ve learned to follow their commands, just do your time. You can’t help but remember
the judge telling you how tired the public is of your criminal activity. Could adult prison really be worse? You’ll
probably find out, since you have a 50/50 chance of ending up there. Suddenly, you wake up! You’ve had a
nightmare, the same one lived everyday by young people in juvenile justice systems around the country.
Now imagine a different experience. It’s morning now and time to get up for breakfast, do chores, and get
ready for school and the day’s rigorous schedule. You step onto the floor of your group’s home-like dormitory
and move to your personal closet to pick out clothes for the day. There are just 10 other young men in your
group. The staff members wear normal clothes and are addressed by their first names. You call a “circle” to
get the group’s attention so you can talk about your nightmare. The group quickly assembles and is seated in
the group’s living room to listen and provide support. The nightmare generated some feelings of fear that you
suspect are connected to childhood experiences. The group offers time in the daily group meeting that evening, but also assures you they will be there anytime you need to talk. The group is like family and you know
the staff care, almost as if you were their own child. It’s off to school, where you’ll stay with your group while
participating in challenging lessons and receiving individualized help. You never realized how intelligent you
were. You now plan to go to college after receiving your diploma from the Division of Youth Services.
You reflect for a moment and remember that you’re one of the lucky ones—you live in Missouri. The Training
School for Boys has closed and you’re in the care of the Division of Youth Services after years of innovation.
You’re in a small treatment center close to your home, have the same service coordinator as your advocate the
entire time, your family is attending family therapy, and you’re safe. You are hopeful about the future, knowing
that you have a 90% chance of being successful. Your group, staff team, family, and a community liaison
council full of caring adults are all there to support you. While many states around the country built youth
correctional facilities with barbed wire, guards, and isolation cells; Missouri remembered that you were still a
child, a work in progress. They were clear about their principles and moved forward with innovative practices
that have now been confirmed by research and practice. They kept trying until they found what works.


strives to create safety through constant super­
vision and staff leadership—by showing no
tolerance for physical or emotional abuse, and
by cultivating an enveloping atmosphere of
healthy relationships and mutual respect.
As one secure care Kansas City youth explained
to a reporter from the Los Angeles Times, “Most
of us come in with a fighting mentality, but
pretty soon we realize that there’s no need for
that here.”25
Rejecting Correctional Coercion

The question of punishment in Missouri is
resolved at commitment. Youth are sentenced
to DYS custody if their lawbreaking has been
sufficiently serious and the harm they’ve caused
significantly severe. This involuntary placement
into a DYS facility is their sanction. Once the
youth enter a facility, however, the sole focus
turns to treatment. DYS youth receive structure, counseling, direction, and support. They
are required to work hard, confront difficult
issues and behave responsibly toward their
peers, families, staff, and other adults.
The environment inside DYS facilities, even
for the most serious offenders, is intentionally
humane. Missouri has not found it necessary
or useful to employ armed guards, cells, pepper
spray, prolonged isolation, or any of the other
harsh trappings of conventional correctional
confinement. Rather, DYS staff maintain order
through constant and attentive supervision—
treating youth in the manner in which they
should treat others, expecting them to comply,
and questioning them respectfully but purposefully when they act out.
For instance, the Riverbend Treatment
Center—one of the seven secure care juvenile
facilities in Missouri—contains a room that
resembles tens of thousands of cells in training

schools coast to coast: gray cement floor, white
cinder-block walls, narrow cot, and open,
stainless-steel toilet. Only at Riverbend, this
cell is one-of-a-kind, and it’s rarely used. In
fact, most of the time the cell is filled with
supplies—all of which must be removed in
those very rare emergencies when one of the
30-or-so residents loses his temper and requires
a cooling-off period. Indeed, not a single
youth was placed into the cell in 2008, reports
Assistant Facility Manager Lorna Young. The
most recent incident came in May 2007. Other
than a metal detector at the front door and
a perimeter fence surrounding the property,
there are few locked doors and little security
hardware of any type at Riverbend: just video
cameras linked to monitors in the central
office. Isolation is never used as punishment at
Riverbend—or any other DYS facility—and
youth are never left alone to languish. Rather,
whenever a young person is placed into the cell
a staff person remains just outside the door—
and young people rarely spend more than an
hour or two before rejoining the group and
resuming their normal activities. DYS requires
prior approval of management staff before the
cell is used and each occurrence is documented
and closely monitored. Only six of the 32 DYS
facilities statewide have even one such cell, and
DYS Director Tim Decker says that the agency
uses the isolation cells fewer than 25 times per
year statewide.
Likewise, unlike many states, DYS does not
allow the use of pepper spray, nor does it
permit demeaning or potentially dangerous techniques such as hog-ties, face-down
restraints, or electrical shocks, which have been
widely reported in other jurisdictions. Strip
searches, too, are strictly forbidden. DYS does
employ video cameras throughout its seven
secure care facilities, which are beamed into a
wall of video monitors in the facility’s central


Rather than trying to
impose safety through
coercive correctional
practices, DYS strives
to create safety
through constant
supervision and staff
leadership—by showing
no tolerance for physical or emotional abuse,
and by cultivating an
enveloping atmosphere
of healthy relationships
and mutual respect.

office and recorded on videotape—allowing
administrators to review critical incidents after
the fact.
Safety Through Supervision and Relationships

So, if not through the commonplace tools of
correctional security, how does Missouri keep
youth safe in its facilities?
Rather than hiring
high school graduates
without respect to their
interest or capacity for
youth work, DYS recruits
many of its workers
on college campuses
across the state—and
it winnows applicants
through an intensive
interviewing process.

The answer begins and ends with people—with
intensive supervision by highly motivated,
highly trained staff constantly interacting with
youth to create an environment of trust and
respect. When Missouri first began treating
youth in groups during the 1970s and early
1980s, staff struggled initially to impose order
and create safety.
“We didn’t know what we were doing [at
first]. The boys ran us ragged,” recalls Gail D.
Mumford, who began working with DYS as a
youth specialist in 1983 and later served as the
agency’s deputy director. “They were acting up
every day, sometimes every hour.”
Gradually, though, the functioning of the
groups improved—and safety increased
dramatically—as DYS adopted three key safety
High-caliber staff. Soon after closing its train-

ing schools and embracing the group treatment
approach statewide in the early 1980s, DYS
made a crucial decision to redefine the job
of frontline workers. No longer would DYS
staff work in their traditional role as guards or
correctional officers, with a primary concern
on enforcing rules and punishing misbehavior. Rather, staff would now fulfill a new role
as youth specialists with responsibility for the
“safety, personal conduct, care and therapy” of
the youth.


Since then, rather than hiring high school
graduates without respect to their interest or
capacity for youth work, DYS has recruited
many of its workers on college campuses across
the state—and it has winnowed its applicants
through an intensive interviewing process
to determine whether would-be staffers are
personally committed to helping youth succeed
and possess the personality traits—good listening skills, empathy, clear and concise speaking
style, ability to command respect—needed for
the job. The youth specialist job classification
requires at least 60 hours of college experience—and 84 percent of youth specialists
currently have either a bachelor’s degree or
60-plus hours of college plus two years of DYS
experience. Also, because its facilities are located
throughout the state—in urban and rural
locations alike—DYS has been able to recruit a
racially and ethnically diverse staff that reflect
the backgrounds of the youth it serves.
During their first two years, new youth specialists are required to complete 236 hours of
training, much of it dedicated to the underlying DYS values and beliefs. The training also
includes multiple sessions on youth development, family systems, and group facilitation,
including extensive practice applying these
concepts through role playing and other
participatory exercises. (In their first months,
until they’ve completed 103 hours of core
training, new youth specialists aren’t left alone
with a group—instead, they work in tandem
with more experienced staff.) Over time, staff
members return for at least 40 hours per year
of additional in-service training to reinforce
their skills and bring them up to speed on new
concepts and treatment techniques.
Active around-the-clock supervision. Con-

cerned over continuing incidences of violence

and other discord in its treatment groups in
the early 1980s, DYS leaders stepped back and
studied the situations that led to problems.
They determined that most incidents occurred
when youth were out of staff sight—when
three young people take the trash outside, for
instance, or two youths went into the bathroom
together unattended. They also noted that most
incidents happened at night. Based on these
observations, the agency reorganized its staffing
patterns to ensure that in every DYS facility
every group is constantly supervised by one or
more youth specialists—night and day, weekday and weekend, 52 weeks of the year. For
DYS youth, there is no such thing as free time
without at least one of their team’s dedicated
youth specialists present.
Moreover, except when the youth sleep at
night, this supervision is active rather than
passive. Staff are constantly talking with group
members, engaging in activities with them.
Their presence and positive example provide a
calming influence on the groups. Also, remaining in constant close contact allows DYS staff
to identify and resolve any tensions, upsets, and
rivalries as they emerge—rather than letting
situations fester and boil over into violence or
conflict. Staff are trained to notice changes in
young people’s facial expressions and their body
language, and to take note when cliques are
beginning to form or young people are being
ostracized by other group members.
In secure care facilities, this around-the-clock
supervision takes the form of constant “double
coverage”—where two DYS staffers are present
with every group, at all times. DYS has found
that by keeping two sets of eyes and two
calming influences present with the groups
at all times, it can maintain an atmosphere of
safety and respect that allows even its most

challenging participants to stay focused on their
work and positive in their behavior.
Minimizing fear, maximizing trust, fostering respect. Ultimately, DYS has learned, the

safety of any group is directly correlated with
the interpersonal atmosphere that exists among
the young people and between the youth and
their dedicated staff team. As a result, DYS
youth specialists are trained extensively in
conflict management and employ a number of
techniques designed to defuse potential trouble
and foster a safe environment.
At least five times per day the youth check in
with one another, telling their peers and the
staff how they feel physically and emotionally. And at any time, youth are free to call a
circle—in which all team members sit or stand
facing one another—to raise concerns or voice
complaints about the behavior of other group
members (or to share good news). Thus, at any
moment the focus can shift from the activity at hand—education, exercise, clean up, a
bathroom break—to a lengthy discussion of
behaviors and attitudes. Staff members also call
circles frequently to communicate and enforce
expectations regarding safety, courtesy, and
respect, and also to recognize positive behaviors.
Youth specialists are especially mindful to
protect the emotional safety of youth—refraining from language that might be perceived as
disrespectful, and stepping in to protect young
people from any unkind actions by others
in the peer group. Also, youth specialists are
trained to solicit and validate the feelings of
young people. Then, once youth have expressed
their emotions, staff help them to understand
the roots of their feelings and learn how to
distinguish thoughts from emotions and to
channel their emotions in constructive and
non-destructive directions.


The Missouri Model in Action: Personal Growth Through

community service
On December 30, 2008, an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described a new program at the
Hogan Street Regional Youth Center, a secure care facility in St. Louis, where confined youth train
dogs who’ve been abandoned. In particular, this excerpt details the relationship between Ryan,
a 17-year-old Hogan Street resident, and King, a hound-German Shepherd mix that was found
abandoned as a puppy in a run-down city neighborhood.26
[Ryan] was 4 when his mother was murdered. His father was already in prison for a violent
crime. Left to an unstable network of relatives, he relied on himself to survive a world driven by
meth, heroin, drug dealing and stealing.
He had a short temper. Friends died of overdoses in front of him. He didn’t care whether he
died. “I was just ready to accept it at a young age,” [Ryan says]…
As he speaks, Ryan gently sweeps aside the super-sized dog paw tapping on the table in front of
him, as if looking for a hand to hold.
Soon the dog nudges his boxy snout up onto the edge of the table.
“Down, King,” Ryan says calmly while gently tugging his leash to lead the dog back to the floor.
It has been about a month since Ryan and another teen began training King and several other
rescued dogs through Loosen the Leash, a new, nonprofit program under way inside Hogan Street,
a state rehabilitative facility that houses some of Missouri’s most serious juvenile offenders.
The program teaches teen offenders the fine details of dog training. For three months, the juveniles live with the dogs and train them, preparing them for adoptions and, hopefully, a safe and
stable new home.
But in a world where teens like Ryan and dogs like King have been given few boundaries, little
love and endless turmoil, it shows the juveniles something even greater. Patience, respect,
praise, empathy and control don’t just win over disobedient dogs, but also are the tools the
teens must use to build their own second chance at a future…
Ryan says it will be difficult saying goodbye to King, but he also knows he has given the dog
something that he, too, desperately wants.
“I know that he’d rather go to another family than not have a family at all,” he says.


When Crises Arise

Through these techniques and strategies, DYS
has achieved an admirable safety record. Every
once in a while, however, tempers flare or a
young person runs amok and endangers the
group. For these extreme situations, facility staff
train the youth to help restrain any peer who
loses control and threatens the group’s safety.
Only staff members are authorized to call for
a restraint, but once they do the young people
grab arms and legs and subdue their peer on the
floor. Once down, the team holds the youth in
place until the young person regains his or her
composure. Once calm, staff encourage the
youth to talk about what prompted the loss
of control, and how they can recognize and
respond differently to such situations in the
The practice of peer restraints is controversial. Many experts reject it outright, and DYS
leaders themselves stress that no jurisdiction
should adopt peer restraints until the facility
has created an atmosphere of safety and trust.
As yet, none of the jurisdictions striving to
replicate Missouri’s approach has adopted a
policy of peer restraints.
However, notes Tim Decker, serious injuries do
not occur during peer restraints, and injuries
are far less common in Missouri than in states
that rely on billy-clubs and mace—as are
assaults and other critical incidents. Former
DYS Director Mark Steward also defends youth
restraints on practical grounds. “We don’t have
200-kid facilities with 100 staff we can call in
to break things up,” he says. And even if the
staffing was available, “if we had to wait for
the staff to arrive [whenever a fight broke out],
someone’s gonna get their head beat in.”
DYS staff make every effort to diffuse situations
before they reach the point of physical confron-

tation, and whenever a restraint does occur, the
group and team “process” the incident thoroughly to prevent a reoccurrence. DYS reported
a total of 1,170 restraints in 2008—about one
for every 235 youth custody days.

four: Building Skills for Success
At DYS, protecting young people in custody
from physical and emotional harm is a core
goal—and a moral responsibility. But safety is
not just an end in itself. It is also a means by
which DYS creates the favorable conditions
necessary to help youth acquire crucial skills
and insights for the future. These include the
self-awareness and communications skills they’ll
need to reverse negative behavior patterns and
turn themselves into positive parents, partners,
neighbors, and citizens in adult society, plus the
academic and pre-vocational skills they’ll need
to become productive workers.
Fostering Self-Awareness and
Communications Skills

Perhaps the most immediately noticeable
benefit young people accrue through the DYS
treatment process is a striking increase in their
self-awareness and communications skills. DYS
facilities frequently host visitors—anything
from the local Elks Club to an out-of-state delegation of juvenile justice officials. The tours are
always led by youth themselves, and frequently,
the visitors walk away not just surprised, but
often amazed.
Linda Luebbering, who once analyzed the DYS
budget for the Missouri Division of Budget
and Planning and later served as the budget
division’s director, vividly recalls that, on her
first visit to a DYS facility, “I was surprised that
I was walking into a facility like that—these
were hard-core kids—and I was completely


The ease DYS youth
develop in communicating with strangers—
their comfort in talking
to adults, making eye
contact, articulating a
positive message—is a
natural outgrowth of the
DYS treatment process.

comfortable to go up and talk to them about
their treatment. I ended up in a long conversation with a very well-spoken young man.” Only
later did Luebbering learn that the youth had
committed murder. “It made a big impression
on me.”

For the well-being of
troubled youth, for the
safety of citizens, for the
fiscal health of states,
the Missouri model for
youth corrections offers
substantial advantages
over the training school
approaches still
pervasive throughout
most of the nation.

The ease DYS youth develop in communicating with strangers—their comfort in talking
to adults, making eye contact, articulating a
positive message—is a natural outgrowth of the
DYS treatment process. As noted earlier, DYS
young people check in several times per day and
tell peers and staff how they’re feeling physically
and emotionally. When young people mis­
behave, staff don’t mete out punishments but
instead require youth to explain their actions,
and talk about their impact on others. Other
youth are encouraged to voice their opinions
and provide support as well.
By constantly soliciting young people’s
thoughts, and by treating their ideas and feelings respectfully, the DYS treatment process
steadily builds young people’s confidence and
competence as communicators.
“I was impressed that the kids really understood what the program was all about,” recalled
David Addison, a juvenile public defender from
Baltimore County, Maryland, following a tour
of DYS facilities. “They were able to express it a
lot better than a lot of the staff could explain it
here in Maryland.”
Pursuing Academic Progress

As noted earlier, DYS takes an unconventional
approach to education—teaching youth
together in their treatment groups regardless
of aptitude and prior academic achievement.
Every weekday throughout the year—no
summer break—each group sits in its own
dedicated classroom with its own dedicated,

certified, DYS-paid teacher, plus another DYS
youth specialist, for six hours of learning time.
The education program is fully accredited by
the Missouri Department of Elementary and
Secondary Education. Despite wide differences
in ability, the groups undertake many learning
activities as a whole class—often breaking into
small groups to work together on exercises. (In
many cases, the more advanced students will
help less advanced students.) At other times, the
students work by themselves on lessons assigned
by the teacher and geared to their individual
academic needs—whether they be basic fractions, or final preparations for the GED exam.
Students with learning disabilities and other
special education needs may be pulled out of
class on a regular basis to work with a special
education instructor.
This format—essentially a one-room schoolhouse for each DYS treatment group—clearly
limits the amount of time the students spend
working as a class on lessons geared specifically
to each student’s academic level. Yet, with two
adults working with each class of just 10–12
students, opportunities for individualized
attention are plentiful. And because the group
remains intact, discipline remains high and a
conducive atmosphere for learning pervades.
The results, as detailed in the opening chapter,
show that this trade-off is more than justified.
Again, in both reading and math, more than 70
percent of DYS youth progress at a rate equal
to or greater than their same age peers attending regular public schools. And, more than 300
DYS youth earned a high school diploma or
obtained GEDs while in DYS custody in 2008.
Opportunities for Hands-on Learning

In addition to classroom learning, DYS provides
plentiful opportunities for youth to apply their
skills in real-world contexts. These include:


The environment inside DYS 	
facilities, even for the most serious
offenders, is intentionally humane.   

Jobs. Using a $678,000 annual appropria-

tion from the Missouri state legislature, DYS
provides actual work experience for more than
900 youth per year at all levels of care.* With
help from local community advisory councils,
facility staff identify work opportunities
appropriate for DYS youth with nearby public
and nonprofit agencies. At Camp Avery, one of
several DYS facilities located on state park land,
DYS youth work alongside park rangers helping
to improve the facility grounds. Typically, youth
are selected to participate toward the end of
their commitments—after they have made
significant progress in their treatment process
and demonstrated responsible behavior inside
their facility. Participating youth are paid minimum wage for their time on the job—much of
which is used to pay restitution or contribute
to the state’s Crime Victims Restitution Fund.
More than 95 percent of selected youth participate successfully.
Community service. In addition to paid work
experience, DYS youth participate regularly
in community service projects at homeless
shelters, senior centers, hospitals, and other
charitable organizations. For instance, at the
*Community job placements are less uncommon for youth
in secure care, due to safety concerns, but secure care facilities
make up for the gap by creating meaningful career-related
work opportunities within the facility or as the youth transitions to aftercare.

secure care Hogan Street Regional Youth
Center in St. Louis, youth provide training for
stray dogs in partnership with the local animal
shelter. (See sidebar on page 30, Missouri Model
in Action.)
Applied learning. Finally, DYS teachers and

youth specialists also strive to provide hands-on
learning opportunities to complement the academic learning. Thus, students at programs in
the Kansas City region build full-size soapbox
derby cars as part of their math and science
curriculum and compete in a yearly regional
event. Students at the secure care Hogan Street
Regional Youth Center in St. Louis perform
Shakespeare plays as part of their literature
curriculum, and students throughout the state
compete in “Olympic” events each year focused
on academic learning, social cooperation, and
physical education. Most programs have active
student councils, providing youth with the
opportunity to develop skills in leadership,
planning, and self-governance.

five: Families as Partners
One of the most commonplace and crippling
flaws in many state juvenile corrections systems
is the failure to reach out to, engage, and support the parents and other family members of
delinquent teens. As former Annie E. Casey
Foundation President Douglas W. Nelson wrote


in a 2008 essay, A Roadmap for Juvenile Justice
Reform, “An overwhelming body of research
and experience shows that parents and families
remain crucial and that effectively engaging and
supporting parents is pivotal to successful youth
development… [Yet] most juvenile justice
systems are more inclined to ignore, alienate, or
blame family members than to enroll them as
Missouri takes a markedly different approach.
The Division of Youth Services provides
extensive training on family systems and family
engagement for all of its youth specialists, and
it employs a cadre of family therapists steeped
in the group treatment process—indeed, many
of the family therapists began their careers as
DYS youth specialists before training as mental
health professionals. From the very first day a
young person is committed to DYS custody,
parents and other family members are systematically engaged.
Immediate Outreach

As soon as any young person is placed in state
custody, the DYS service coordinator meets
with parents and delivers a message that “the
youths and their families are encouraged to
engage, invest and take ownership in the process as active collaborators” and that “treatment
and services are done with, rather than to, the
youths and their families.” (Because a high percentage of DYS youth come from single-parent
families, and absent parents are not involved in
many cases, these meetings often involve just
one parent.)

assistance when lack of a car or accessible public
transportation makes visiting difficult.
Family Therapy

According to DYS, 25 to 30 percent of DYS
youth participate in some form of family therapy before leaving custody. Often, the family
therapy takes place toward the end of a residential commitment—after the young person has
made substantial progress in treatment—and
focuses on helping parents and youth jointly
change negative family dynamics and create
an alliance to support the youth’s continued
success. Therapists may offer parents constructive suggestions on how to provide firm and
consistent (but positive) discipline—and how
to avoid crises where tempers fly out of control.
In some cases, the therapy focuses initially on
the needs of the parents themselves—some of
whom require help with physical or mental
health problems, substance abuse, financial
stresses, or legal difficulties. In joint sessions,
the therapists strive to create new alliances
between youth and their parents—and agreements on new rules that will maintain order in
the home.
Partnership in Release Planning and Aftercare

Whether or not the youth and his/her parent(s)
take part in family therapy, the DYS service
coordinator involves parents extensively in
planning for every young person’s release—
reenrolling in school, identifying suitable extracurricular activities, setting curfews and other
rules to supervise the young person (along with
suggestions for how to deal with any missteps).

Ongoing Consultation

DYS facilities schedule regular visiting hours for
families, and both facility staff and service coordinators actively encourage family members
to attend—sometimes offering transportation


If a young person’s parent or parents are not
willing or able to provide a safe and supportive
home, DYS seeks out grandparents, aunts/
uncles, and other relatives who might take the

youth in safely. And in a small number of cases,
youth are placed into independent living programs. Following release, the service coordinators check in regularly with parents and family
members—and make regular face-to-face visits
to support both youth and family members in
the crucial reentry process.

six: Focus on Aftercare
The final key element in the Division of Youth
Services approach is a thoughtful and aggressive approach to aftercare—the critical period
in which young people reenter the community
and resume their normal lives following a
period of confinement.
According to David Altschuler, the nation’s
foremost scholar on juvenile aftercare, any
progress made by youth in juvenile corrections
institutions “is generally short-lived, unless
it is followed-up, reinforced, and monitored
in the community. Having no responsibility,
authority, or involvement with anything other
than institutional adjustment and progress, the
institution and its staff have little incentive or
interest in what ultimately happens to youths in
the community.”27
Not so in Missouri. There, DYS employs
multiple strategies to assure that gains made in
treatment are sustained in the world beyond.
Pre-release Planning

Before a young person leaves a DYS facility, the
youth’s service coordinator convenes a series
of meetings with the young person and his/
her family members, as well as staff members
from the youth’s treatment team in the facility.
In the meetings, plans are made for reenrolling the young person in school, identifying
employment opportunities (or sometimes
enlistment in the military or enrollment in Job
Corps), and planning community service and/

or extracurricular activities. Also, youth and
parents agree to curfews and other new ground
rules for the youth’s behavior in the home. Prior
to their release, most youth return home for
one or more short-term furloughs to prepare
for reentry and identify any potential problems.
To hold itself more accountable for results in
pre-release planning, DYS developed a new
performance indicator in 2006 to track whether
young people are enrolled in school and/or
employed at their time of discharge from DYS
custody. (In 2008, 85.3 percent of youth were
productively engaged at discharge.)
Continuing Custody

Following release from a DYS facility, most
youth remain under DYS supervision on
aftercare status. The period of aftercare supervision is indefinite—determined by DYS on a
case-by-case basis—but typically lasts four to
six months. While on aftercare, DYS retains full
custody of the youth, including the authority to
return the young person to residential confinement if he or she shows signs of falling into
anti-social and delinquent behavior patterns.
Monitoring and Mentoring in the Community

While on aftercare, youth have regular meetings
and phone calls with their service coordinators.
Many—perhaps two-thirds—are also assigned
to a “community-based mentor,” often a college
student working with DYS part time. These
mentors serve as role models and confidantes
for the youth, and they provide an extra point
of contact to monitor how well the young
people are meeting expectations for school
attendance and participation in other required
activities. (The community-based mentor
program has also proven an excellent recruiting
technique for DYS—allowing college students
studying in human services to launch their
careers in the division.)


Sustaining success
requires ongoing
vigilance to protect
against what the agency
terms “drift”—the
gravitational pull
toward more punitive
approaches, and the
ever-present distractions and disruptions that
can cloud the agency’s
focus on public safety
and the well-being of
troubled young people.

Underlying Values,
Beliefs, and Treatment


s important as any of the specific techniques and practices employed by the
Missouri Division of Youth Services—or
perhaps more important—are the values and
beliefs that underlie them.
DYS prides itself on being mission focused.
Indeed, DYS leaders frequently revise and
revamp agency practices in their efforts toward
continuous improvement. What doesn’t change
is the mission: to help youth in custody make
positive, lasting changes that lead them away
from criminality and toward success.


Also unwavering at DYS is a set of longstanding core beliefs. The three most important of
these beliefs are: (1) that all people—including delinquent youth—desire to do well and
succeed; (2) that with the right kinds of help,
all youth can (and most will) make lasting
behavioral changes and succeed; and (3) that
the mission of youth corrections must be to
provide the right kinds of help, consistent
with public safety, so that young people make
needed changes and move on to successful and
law-abiding adult lives.


The rest of this chapter will describe these core
DYS values and beliefs in more detail, reducing
these philosophical tenets to accessible everyday language. Specifically, it will discuss DYS
principles in three key domains:
Beliefs about youth and their capacity for 		

Beliefs about the process required for troubled 	
	 young people to make lasting changes and 	
	 achieve success.


Beliefs about the environment required in 		
	 youth correctional facilities to support this 	
	 successful delinquency treatment process.

Beliefs About Youth

The core of the DYS philosophy is a belief that
every young person wants to succeed—and can
succeed. All youth hunger for approval, acceptance, and achievement. No matter how serious
their past crimes, and no matter how destructive their current attitudes and behaviors, DYS
considers every young person a work in progress. Each is redeemable and deserves help.
The agency takes seriously its responsibility to
protect society from youth who would commit
crimes and cause harm. Yet, DYS believes that
public safety is best achieved not by shaming delinquent youth for their crimes, not by
inflicting punishment, but rather by providing a therapeutic intervention designed to
challenge young people and help them make
lasting changes in their attitudes, beliefs, and
Through long experience, DYS has learned that
these changes cannot be imposed on young
people. Delinquent youth can’t be “scared
straight”; they cannot be reformed through
a military-style boot camp; and few will be
deterred from crime by fear of punishment.
Rather, change can only result from internal
choices made by the young people themselves—choices to adopt more positive behaviors, seek out more positive peers, and embrace
more positive goals.
DYS recognizes that change is difficult—and
that relationships are critical to overcoming
resistance and fostering positive change. DYS
understands that not only troubled youth, but
all people tend to resist and fear change. The
agency has found that youth respond best and

overcome resistance most readily when they
know that staff members care about them and
expect them to succeed. Young people also benefit enormously both from helping and being
helped by other youth in the treatment group.
DYS believes that youth are likely to engage in
treatment and to consider new directions only
when they are immersed in a safe, nurturing,
and non-blaming environment where they
are listened to and guided by trusted adults,
encouraged to try out new behaviors, and
treated with patience, acceptance, and respect.

DYS has learned that
these changes cannot

DYS remains mindful that every young person
is unique. Each DYS youth has chosen to
engage in delinquent behaviors based upon
his or her own individual circumstances, and
each will make the decisions to change and
grow—or not to—for his or her own personal
reasons. Every young person requires individual
attention to his or her needs and circumstances,
and DYS must respond flexibly and provide
whatever it takes to help each youth succeed.

be imposed on young

DYS has learned that some youth lapse into
serious and chronic delinquency as a coping
mechanism in response to earlier abuse, neglect,
or trauma. In these cases, DYS believes that the
underlying difficulties must be acknowledged
and addressed before change is likely to occur.
For other youth, delinquency has less deepseated roots—adolescent thrill-seeking, clouded
judgment due to substance abuse, involvement
with deviant peers and/or gangs, lure of fast
money through drug dealing or other crimes.

punishment. Rather,

Regardless of the roots of their problem
behaviors, DYS believes that delinquent youth
typically suffer from a lack of emotional
maturity—an absence of insight into their own
behavior patterns, an inability to distinguish
between feelings and facts, perception and reality, along with an underdeveloped capacity to


people. Delinquent
youth can’t be “scared
straight”; they cannot
be reformed through a
military-style boot camp;
and few will be deterred
from crime by fear of

change can only result
from internal choices
made by the young
people themselves.

The Missouri Model:

underlying beliefs
and values about

Every young person wants to succeed—and can succeed.


Public safety is best served not by punishing young people or shaming them for their
crimes, but by offering a therapeutic intervention to help them make lasting changes in 	
their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.


These lasting changes cannot be imposed on young people. Youth can’t be scared straight,
reformed, or deterred from crime by fear of punishment. Rather lasting changes can only
result from internal choices made by the young people themselves.


Like all people, troubled youth tend to resist and fear change. Positive relationships with
staff and other youth are critical to overcoming resistance and fostering positive change.


Every young person requires individual attention. Each DYS youth has chosen to engage
in delinquent behaviors based upon his or her own circumstances, and each will make the
decisions to change and grow—or not—for his or her own personal reasons.


Some youth lapse into serious and chronic delinquency as a coping mechanism in response
to earlier abuse, neglect, or trauma. For other youth, delinquency has less deep-seated roots.


Regardless of the roots of their behavior problems, delinquent youth typically suffer from
a lack of emotional maturity—an absence of insight into their own behavior patterns, an
inability to distinguish between feelings and facts, and an underdeveloped capacity to
communicate their emotions or express disagreement or anger responsibly.


All behavior, no matter how destructive, has an underlying emotional purpose. Therefore,
rather than punishing or isolating young people when they act out, the best response is to ask
probing questions that help the youth understand the roots of the problem and identify more
constructive responses.


Most youth entering custody have very low confidence in their ability to succeed as students—
or eventually as workers in the mainstream economy. And most have had limited exposure to
mentors and positive role models.


While the DYS staff and treatment process are important, parents and other family members
remain the most crucial people in youths’ lives—and the keys to their long-term success.


communicate their feelings clearly and express
disagreement or anger responsibly.
Another central tenet of the Missouri approach
is that all behavior, no matter however maladaptive or destructive, has an underlying
emotional purpose. Therefore, the emotions
expressed by young people during treatment
should not to be judged, lest youth withhold
their feelings and lose out on crucial opportunities for personal growth. When a young person
acts out or misbehaves, DYS believes the best
response is not to punish the youth with swift
consequences or isolation, but rather to challenge him or her with probing questions that
help the young person understand the roots
of the problem behavior, the underlying needs
they seek to meet—and to help the youth identify more constructive responses.
DYS also observes that most youth entering custody have very low confidence in their
ability to succeed as students—or eventually as
adult workers in the mainstream economy. For
a variety of reasons—poverty, lack of parental
support, chaotic and low-performing schools,
combined with their own behavior problems
and (in many cases) learning disabilities—few
DYS youth have experienced success in school.
Most are years behind grade level in reading,
writing, and math.
Likewise, because they come disproportionately
from families troubled by poverty, addiction,
and/or abandonment, and from communities
marred by pervasive poverty and crime, many
DYS youth have had limited exposure to mentors and positive role models. Enabling youth
to taste success in the classroom and to develop
positive relationships with DYS staff (and other
adults) can provide an invaluable impetus for
them to embrace healthy attitudes and adopt
a law-abiding lifestyle. DYS staff help fill this
void—at least temporarily—by taking an active

interest in the young people’s thoughts and feelings, helping them identify realistic and constructive goals for the future, and treating them
consistently with dignity and appreciation.
Finally, DYS believes that while its staff and
treatment process are important, parents and
other family members remain the most crucial
people in young people’s lives—and the keys
to their long-term success. Families retain
enormous influence over youth, for good or
ill. Repairing family relationships is a powerful
motivator for virtually every young person who
enters a DYS facility.
Beliefs About the Change Process

DYS believes that an effective therapeutic
process must begin with physical and emotional safety. Young people cannot engage in
a meaningful change process when they are
subject to (or made to be fearful of ) physical or
sexual abuse, excessive use force and isolation,
or overmedication by staff, or when they are
being hit, shoved, grabbed, slapped, twisted,
pinched, or otherwise attacked. Likewise,
youth cannot progress in treatment if they
are intimidated, overwhelmed, humiliated, or
spoken to in demeaning ways by staff, or if they
are teased, belittled, ridiculed, or ostracized by
other youth.
In pursuing safety, however, DYS believes
that the coercive correctional tools commonly
employed in most youth corrections facilities—
such as razor wire, isolation cells, uniformed
guards armed with handcuffs and pepper
sprays, etc.—are unnecessary and counter­
Instead, DYS believes that physical and
especially emotional safety are best protected
through a relationships-based approach aimed
at fostering a positive and respectful social


When a young person
acts out or misbehaves,
DYS staff challenge
him or her with probing
questions that help the
young person understand the roots of the
problem behavior
and identify more constructive responses.

atmosphere within the treatment group.
Keys to sustaining this nurturing atmosphere

and mischief, which can lead to problematic
behaviors. (See sidebar with daily schedule.)

Group treatment. The small group approach

Maintaining a positive
atmosphere within
treatment groups
requires continuous
supervision—night and
day, day-in and day-out,
without interruption—
by dedicated staff who
know and care about
each young person, and
who are knowledgeable
about group process.

allows DYS to assign a stable staff team and
team leader, which fosters meaningful and
trusting relationships between youth and staff
and creates an intimate atmosphere in which a
healthy group culture can evolve. Also, group
treatment is important because—as DYS
puts it—“change does not occur in isolation.”
Peers take on enormous importance during
adolescence. So allowing youth to interact
consistently with their peers in a supervised
environment creates valuable opportunities for
youth to practice new ways of communicating,
develop positive and healthy peer relationships,
and experience the fulfillment of helping and
being helped by peers.
Constant eyes-on, ears-on supervision. Maintaining a positive atmosphere within treatment
groups requires continuous supervision—night
and day, day-in and day-out, without interruption—by dedicated staff who know and care
about each young person, and who are knowledgeable about group process. These staff must
be alert, with their eyes and ears attuned to any
emerging problems, tensions, or conflicts. In
addition, they must possess the facilitation skills
needed both to step in and deescalate tensions
before they spiral out of control, and to use
each situation as an opportunity to help youth
explore their behaviors and progress in their
path of maturation and self-discovery.
Strong programmatic structure. DYS schedules

a busy slate of activities every day, morning till
evening—with minimal down time. Experience has shown that long stretches of unstructured time are an invitation to restlessness

DYS believes that the therapeutic process
leading to sustained behavioral change
includes five core stages. In the first stage—
orientation—young people enter this safe and
therapeutic environment and become acclimated to the routines and expectations of life in
a DYS facility, where the aggressive or belligerent behaviors many have relied upon habitually
for self-defense and stature are neither required
nor rewarded.
Once oriented, young people begin the second
phase of the treatment process—personal growth
and self-discovery. Many times every day—
when the group checks in with each other at
the outset of each new activity, when a circle
is called to explore some tension or problem
behavior that has arisen in the group, in their
private conversations with staff members,
and especially in their daily treatment groups
sessions—the young people are asked to think
and talk about their feelings and to discuss their
behaviors: How do they respond to perceived
slights? How is there behavior different in the
presence of male vs. female staff? How do they
behave in potentially embarrassing situations?
What strategies do they use to earn the respect
and admiration of others? Staff also seek to
connect these discussions to youths’ lives
outside the facility: How has the young person
responded to similar situations in the past?
How might they respond differently to achieve
a better outcome? Through these interactions,
youth gradually:


g ain insights into their own thought processes
and behavior patterns, including the dysfunctional and destructive behaviors that brought
them into the correctional system;



identify the emotional triggers that typically
lead them to act out and lose emotional control—and the touchy topics that cause them
to clam up, or act out, when they’re discussed;
e xamine how current behaviors are connected to past experiences, and especially to
the dynamics within their own homes and
families; and


 evelop the capacity to express their emotions
clearly, calmly, and respectfully—even negative emotions like anger and fear.

While this self-discovery process will continue
throughout their time in custody (and beyond),
DYS youth gradually move into an integration
or mastery phase where—informed by their
new self-knowledge—they begin to “try on”
and get comfortable with new behaviors, and

		 Typical Daily Schedule for a Missouri DYS Facilit y
	 T I M E 	




	 6:00 AM	

Youth wake up, attend to personal needs, and complete dorm details.

6:30 	 Morning check in, followed by breakfast and kitchen details. After details, youth return to the
		 dorm, set daily goals, and prepare for school.




	 12:30 PM	

School—classes typically total 300+ minutes per day.
Group check in, lunch, kitchen details.
School continues according to class schedule.

3:00	 School day ends. Youth return to the dorms and check in/process their day.
		 Thirty minutes free time is allowed.



Youth prepare for dinner and kitchen details.



Group meetings.



Youth make phone calls, have free time activities, then shower and prepare for bed.	



Youth journal and process goals set during the morning.



Lights out.




Youth share how they are feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally. During check in/process 		
		 time, youth identify concerns, set goals, report on goals, encourage each other, and/or share 		
		 group reminders.


Youth perform routine cleaning duties. Details are scheduled monthly and rotated between
		 the groups.


	 Youth have brief and structured time to listen to headphones, work on treatment assignments, 		
		 journal, write letters, play board games, draw, and/or read.


Steering just one high-risk delin-	
quent teen away from a life of 	
crime saves society $3 million to 	
$6 million in reduced victim costs
and criminal justice expenses, plus
increased wages and tax payments
over the young person’s lifetime.    
internalize new attitudes. In this stage, the challenge for youth is to begin applying their new
self-knowledge in their everyday lives—learning
to behave consistently as mature, responsible,
and focused-on-the-future young adults:

members to identify, discuss, and resolve
underlying tensions—and where the families
begin to work out strategies in advance to
address problems that might arise when youth
return home.


e xercising leadership within the group by
mentoring newer group members and helping
maintain a positive and respectful climate
among the team;


learning to avoid emotional outbursts and
aggressive or self-destructive behavior by
setting personal boundaries and navigating
situations that provoke these reactions, and by
practicing strategies to express their feelings
constructively and redirect themselves when
they begin getting upset and sliding into negative behaviors; and


 articipating in family therapy, where they
work with a therapist and their family

Often concurrent with this integration/mastery phase, DYS youth begin the process of
goal-setting—talking with service coordinators, facility staff, parents, and others to create
a positive and realistic plan for their futures.
For those who are thriving in their academic
studies, this will include preparing for the GED
exam or completing the requirements for a
high school diploma, and beginning to explore
opportunities to pursue college admission or
other postsecondary job training. For others,
the focus will be on options for employment,
military service, or enrollment in the Job Corps
or other job training. Also in this phase, many
youth are gaining experience as productive


members of the community—through DYSsponsored jobs, community service projects,
and other activities.
This goal-setting, along with the personal
growth and behavioral improvements achieved
in the earlier phases, leads directly to the transition phase where youth prepare for release and
then return to the community—with ongoing
support from their service coordinators and
other DYS staff. Prior to release, youth begin:

 eveloping detailed “self-care” plans for their
return to the community—where they will
live and what rules they will live by, where
they will attend school and/or look for work,
and how they will deal with delinquent peers
and avoid dangerous situations and other
negative influences that led them astray


r econnecting with their families (or other
guardians), and making a series of home visits
in preparation for their final release; and


Beliefs About Facilities and Their

As detailed in the previous chapter, the Missouri model is built upon a regionalized
network of small facilities, rather than one or
a handful of large prisonlike training schools.
Missouri’s small facilities are appointed with
comfortable homelike furnishings, creating
an atmosphere more like a school dormitory
than a prison. Inside the facilities, Missouri
young people wear their own clothes and keep
personal effects in their rooms and on their
dressers. In general, Missouri designs the treatment environment to normalize the experience
for youth, to the extent possible, based on its
belief that the less they treat a young person like
a criminal, the less likely he or she will be to
feel and behave like a criminal.
In addition, DYS believes that its facilities
should possess the following characteristics:

making connections with community members who might serve as resources and supports for the young person following release,
as well as employers who might hire them.

Once home in the community on aftercare,
youth act on and readjust their plans with
ongoing support from their service coordinator and community-based mentor. Also, both
prior to release and during aftercare, service
coordinators and family therapists provide
continuing support to parents (or other guardians)—working with parents to improve their
capacity to exert positive discipline, helping
parents address personal difficulties that conflict
with effective parenting, and facilitating positive change within the youth’s home following


 he focus on treatment should permeate all
aspects of the facility—and at all times. Under
Missouri’s approach, treatment is a 24/7
activity. The focus on personal growth is
constant, and any activity can be interrupted
at any time if the need or opportunity arises
to help one or more group members address
an emotional need, correct an inappropriate
behavior, or recognize a positive achievement.
Further, Missouri believes that all staff—not
just youth specialists and administrators, but
also cooks, groundskeepers, secretaries—are
treatment staff. All must understand and buy
in to the agency’s rehabilitative mission, and
in their interactions with youth they must
demonstrate the same tone of respectfulness
and high expectations.


 he staff must be diverse in terms of race, gender,
and ethnicity. They should be selected in part
to reflect the youth they serve, and to understand their cultural backgrounds. This diversity is made much easier in Missouri by the
scattering of programs throughout the state,
in urban as well as rural locations, close to the
homes of the youth. (By contrast, diversity
and cultural understanding can be difficult for
states with large training schools, which are
generally located in rural communities with
majority white populations, serving a population that is predominantly youth of color and
mostly urban.)


 acilities should be connected to the outside
community. As much as possible, DYS facilities
strive to develop and maintain relationships
with citizens, businesses, community organizations, and others in their local communities. These connections are invaluable both
to create opportunities for youth during and
after confinement, and to help youth develop
a sense of themselves as contributors to the
larger society. Every DYS facility is supported
by a community liaison council of local leaders who participate in activities in the facility
and help develop opportunities for the young
people. Also, each DYS facility hosts frequent
tours—led by the young people themselves—
out of which ongoing relationships are often
created that lead to service projects, job
opportunities, and other learning opportunities for youth. These community ties are
especially strong at the two DYS facilities
(one for boys, one for girls) that are located
on college campuses, and at facilities located
in state parks where youth participate heavily
in park maintenance and other projects with
park rangers.

Every DYS facility is
supported by a community liaison council
of local leaders who
participate in activities
in the facility and help
develop opportunities
for the young people.



 acilities should be kept clean and orderly at
all times—with youth themselves doing most of
the work. As part of its effort to help young
people build their sense of discipline and
self-respect, DYS places heavy emphasis on
cleanliness and order. Every day, each group
spends time straightening and vacuuming its
pod (i.e., living area). Classrooms are straightened at the end of every school day. A handful
of youth are assigned to help facility cooks
clean up the kitchen after each meal. Youth
participate in major spring cleanings, and
they work with staff on landscaping and other
projects to maintain and beautify their facilities—all part of an effort to communicate to
youth that they are responsible for their own

In addition to these specific characteristics—
indeed more important than any specific trait
or accoutrement—DYS believes that its facilities must revere and radiate an atmosphere of
respectfulness. Perhaps the greatest need among
troubled and delinquent teens—and the biggest
key to change and success—is to discover their
own sense of dignity and self-respect. Therefore, Missouri’s approach is always dignifying
and never degrading; always respectful and
never “because I told you so” or “because you’re
bad.” DYS staff are trained and encouraged
to treat youth (and their families) with respect
at all times, to intervene whenever they sense
any young person acting disrespectfully, and to
teach youth that the more respect they show
others, the more they will reap for themselves.

The Gentry Community Liaison Council: DYS Engages

the community
As part of their efforts to build support and involve community residents in their work with
troubled young people, each DYS facility recruits a team of community leaders to serve on a
community liaison council.
At the 20-bed, moderate-security Gentry Residential Treatment Center in rural Southwest
Missouri, the council includes county commissioners, ministers, business leaders, staff from law
enforcement and the courts, legislators, and other concerned citizens. And it has proven particularly active—even incorporating itself as an independent nonprofit organization for the purpose
of raising funds to support a series of new opportunities for Gentry youth, including:
• Providing

start-up capital and ongoing fiscal management for a culinary arts business operated

by Gentry residents. Funds raised by the business and the council’s other fundraising activities
support college scholarships and other opportunities for the students.
• Helping

youth develop a community garden in conjunction with the University of Missouri

Extension Service. Fresh produce from the garden supports a local food pantry for elderly individuals and families struggling with poverty.
• Constructing

an adventure-based counseling “ropes course” for Gentry youth and other com-

munity residents on nearby land owned by a local church, with only $400 support from the
State of Missouri.
• Helping

connect the Gentry facility to a regional Youth Conservation Corps operated in conjunc-

tion with the local Workforce Investment Board. A team of six young people from the facility
are now working to restore wildlife habitats, create trails on conservation lands, and participate
in other preservation projects.
• Organizing

volunteer opportunities for young people to assist elderly members of the commu-

nity with storm cleanup, property maintenance, and other needs.
Finally, the Gentry Community Liaison Council joins 6–7 other councils in the Southwest Missouri region annually for a Community Liaison Council Summit to share ideas and experiences
about enriching the work and effectiveness of the region’s DYS facilities. One outgrowth of these
summits has been an annual golf tournament that raises several thousand dollars each year for
college scholarships and other worthy causes.


Organizational Essentials


he final set of core beliefs at DYS relates to
the organizational characteristics necessary
for the agency to deliver treatment effectively,
and—most important—to sustain its sense
of purpose year-in and year-out and continue
achieving strong results for youth, citizens, and
In its work, DYS is guided by a cautionary
belief that sustaining success requires ongoing
vigilance to protect against what the agency
terms “drift”—the gravitational pull toward
more punitive approaches, and the ever-present
distractions and disruptions that can cloud the
agency’s focus on public safety and the wellbeing of troubled young people.


Another core belief is that beliefs alone are not
enough: the organization must also develop and
adhere to corresponding policies, practices, and
supervisory structures to ensure that its everyday actions align with its beliefs and support its
In many ways, the Missouri approach to juvenile corrections requires swimming against the
current. Missouri’s methods challenge conventional wisdom and tough-on-crime political
orthodoxy. They upset bureaucratic norms, and
they demand constant creativity, commitment,
and compassion from staff.
To succeed and continue succeeding in this
against-the-tide challenge, DYS has tried to
adopt the characteristics of a high-performance
organization. Specifically, DYS leaders have
made a conscious effort not only to embrace
the following characteristics but also to embed
them in the agency’s everyday practices:



Mission focused. The DYS treatment

approach requires a strong and shared commitment to a common mission—from the top
of the organization to the bottom—rooted in
the belief that delinquent youth can succeed
and the expectation that most will.
To keep the agency mission focused, DYS hires
entry-level workers only after determining that
they are personally committed and temperamentally suited to helping youth succeed, and it
provides intensive and ongoing training to root
them in the DYS treatment philosophy. Also,
virtually all of the administrators at DYS have
experience working directly with youth within
the DYS system and deep appreciation for the
DYS treatment model.

 ighly motivated. DYS must recruit highly
motivated workers at all levels of the organization, and it must create an atmosphere that
sustains and nourishes workers’ motivation
over time.

DYS has developed strong links to colleges
and universities throughout the state, giving
many interested students an opportunity to
learn about the agency by hiring them to work
part time as community-based mentors during
their student years. Once hired on a permanent
basis, DYS provides staff with many career
advancement opportunities, allowing the most
motivated and capable workers to advance
from youth specialists to team leaders, facility
managers or assistant managers, service coordinators, or—with additional training—family
therapists. These advancement opportunities
allow DYS to retain many of its most motivated
workers for many years, despite a pay scale that
is lower than those of youth corrections agencies in many other states.

Integrated. DYS believes that all of its activities, and all of its services to youth, must be
integrated into a coherent whole. Not only

must the right hand always know what the
left hand is doing, the two hands must work
together at all times to maximize the power of
the DYS treatment experience for youth.
To operationalize its belief that treatment is a
24/7 activity, rather than something that transpires once or twice per week in a 90-minute
therapy session, DYS has fully integrated its
education and treatment activities by keeping
treatment groups together during class time
and placing a youth specialist in the classroom.
Likewise, family therapy and any individual
therapy offered to DYS youth are designed to
support the group treatment process, rather
than operating at cross purposes or on a separate track.

 ecentralized. In addition to keeping youth
close to their homes and families, Missouri’s regionalized program structure provides important organizational benefits. A
decentralized administrative structure—and
a willingness to allow the use of different
approaches in different parts of the state—
allows regional administrators (and individual
facility managers) to exercise judgment and
customize practices to the needs of their
populations and the realities of their local

Including clerical staff, fewer than 25 of the
more than 1,400 workers on the DYS payroll
statewide are based in the division’s central
office in Jefferson City, Missouri’s capital.
More than 70 work in the five DYS regional
offices, and the regions are given considerable
latitude to adapt the Missouri treatment model
to local conditions and experiment with new
practices—so long as all strategies are consistent
with core DYS values and beliefs. At the facility
level, too, DYS staff are permitted and encouraged to develop and try out new activities they
think would benefit youth.


“The law put her up
here and thank God
she got here … this
program has just
absolutely turned
her around … I have
my angel back.”
— Grandmother
of DYS Student


Dedicated to continuous improvement. In

keeping with a “whatever it takes” philosophy to helping youth succeed, DYS encourages workers at all levels to identify gaps and
opportunities, engage in creative problemsolving, and explore new approaches to
improve services.
When staff grew concerned that too few
parents were attending Sunday visiting hours
in DYS facilities, they reached out to parents
and learned that many worked on Sundays. To
encourage visiting, DYS changed its visiting
policy to allow visits on any day of the week.
When DYS leaders grew concerned that daily
treatment sessions were not being well run,
it developed a new training and certification
program for all group leaders statewide. When
DYS noticed that parents weren’t attending
family therapy due to transportation problems,
it fought to change a rule that had previously
prohibited DYS staff from transporting parents.
When DYS leaders worried that DYS service
coordinators were missing opportunities to
place exiting youth into schools and jobs, it
created a new performance measure tracking
the percentage of youth who are employed or
enrolled in school at the time of release. In
all of these instances, and many others, DYS
addresses problems by creating staff teams to
look into issues, diagnose problems or weaknesses, and identify new opportunities to
strengthen programming.

E ngaged in the community. To maximize the
positive youth development activities it can
provide youth through jobs, internships, community service activities, and other outings,
DYS facility staff and regional administrators continually reach out to employers, civic
organizations, local government officials, and
other community residents.

As mentioned previously, every DYS facility
conducts frequent youth-led tours to familiarize


community leaders with its mission and
programs, and each facility maintains a local
community liaison council to help identify
community partners and recruit volunteers to
host or participate in constructive activities
with DYS youth. In addition to the opportunities for youth, the extensive community
outreach by DYS also helps minimize any “not
in my backyard” opposition to DYS facilities
and to contain community reactions on those
rare occasions when a young person runs away
from a DYS facility or behaves poorly while
out of the facility participating in a community

Adept at cultivating support from key constituencies. Because its treatment approach
differs from conventional practice and defies
tough-on crime orthodoxy, the Missouri
model requires a deep and consistent well of
political and judicial support. This support
is particularly crucial when budget shortfalls
arise, when the political mood on crime turns
punitive, or when there is turnover in the top
leadership of the division.

Particularly during the 17-year period (1988–
2005) when DYS was overseen by former
Director Mark Steward, DYS attracted strong
support from top leaders in both political parties, many of whom served on the division’s
active state advisory board. In many cases, these
leaders committed to supporting DYS after
touring one or more DYS facilities and hearing
youth tell their stories and describe the progress
they were making under DYS tutelage. DYS
also cultivated support by bringing youth to
testify before the state legislature, and to visit
Missouri’s governor and other state leaders. The
state advisory board has proved invaluable on
several occasions, shielding DYS from proposed
budget cuts or other proposals that might
undercut its treatment programs.

The success of the DYS approach—
indeed, the entire Missouri model—
depends on helping troubled and
chronically delinquent young people
make deep and lasting changes in
how they behave, think, view themselves, and foresee their futures.  
“What is remarkable about Missouri’s system is
that it has been sustained by conservative and
liberal governments,” says Barry Krisberg, the
president of the National Council on Crime
and Delinquency. “They’ve seen that this is not
a left-right issue. In many ways, it’s a commonsense issue.”
Perhaps the DYS advisory board’s most important contribution came in the mid-1990s, at
the height of the nation’s juvenile crime wave
when many states were embracing “adult time
for adult crime” statutes and other punitive
measures. In Missouri, too, many state legislators were demanding similar changes. But
working with the advisory group and with allies
in the legislature and governor’s office, DYS was
able to beat back the most draconian measures
and keep its treatment approach intact. Rather
than widespread transfers to criminal court, the
legislature created the blended sentence alternative, which gives DYS the opportunity to retain
custody and treat serious youth offenders—and
to void adult prison sentences for those who
respond well to DYS treatment.

DYS has also reaped great success in cultivating
support from juvenile judges statewide. Few
cases are transferred to adult court in Missouri, and judges have so far approved release
of all youth in the blended sentence program
who have successfully completed treatment.
Also, judges continue to issue indeterminate
sentences for four-fifths of the youth placed
into DYS custody, allowing DYS the latitude to
move youth in and out of correctional facilities
as it sees fit, even though Missouri’s juvenile
code allows judges to retain control over
every aspect of the case through determinate
In a 2006 report comparing the Missouri and
Ohio juvenile corrections systems, the Ohio
Department of Youth Services concluded that
Missouri “does a fantastic job of involving
legislators and interested community stakeholders as board members, and making the boards
active and locally driven. Board members stay
engaged both internally (participate in youth
activities) and externally (ambassadors in the
community and political arena).”28




ver the past quarter century, Missouri has
built a unique youth corrections model—
an approach focused on fostering the personal
growth of adjudicated youth in small, supportive facilities rather than punishment in large,
harsh, prisonlike institutions. Utilizing this
approach, Missouri is achieving noteworthy
outcomes—results counted in large numbers
of lives rescued, tax dollars saved, and crimes
averted. For leaders in other states whose youth
corrections systems are less impressive, the
Missouri approach merits serious consideration.


However, Missouri’s intricate, multi-dimensional treatment approach has taken many years
to evolve, and it involves many moving parts.
The hard question for other states, then, is how
to adopt the Missouri model—or to successfully adapt key elements from that model—in
ways that improve outcomes substantially and
cost-effectively in the near term.


According to Cynthia Osborne, an expert on
youth development and public systems reform
who has studied the Missouri youth corrections
model intensively, the most important lessons for practitioners in other jurisdictions are
that “no single idea, strategy, tool, or practice
will help another system look like Missouri
or achieve improved outcomes…[and that]
transposing new practices into an unchanged
system does not yield good results.…” Rather,
Osborne says, “the system must relinquish the
traditional correctional values of punishment


and slowly grow a new system rooted in the
values of treatment, compassion, and accountability. Practices cannot produce good results
when used apart from the values.”
For any state interested in replicating the Missouri approach—as a whole or in part—the first
essential step must be to embrace the mission
of helping delinquent youth make meaningful
and lasting behavioral changes and make it the
agency’s central focus. States seeking to adopt
the Missouri model must populate their youth
correction agencies with leaders who believe in
this mission and expect that all or most youth
can and will succeed once changes are implemented. They must also cultivate support for
this unconventional mission from key stakeholders (governors’ offices, legislators, judges)
who have the power to support or stymie the
changes necessary to adopt a Missouri-style


 edefine job descriptions and conduct intenR
sive retraining so that all facility staff embrace
a treatment role;


Integrate education, therapy, and all other program elements into a unified treatment process;


I mplement an intensive and individualized
case management system that assigns every
young person to an individual case manager who will track his or her progress and
advocate for his or her needs throughout the
period of commitment; and


 onsider the possibility of closing training
schools and replacing them with network of
small, regionally dispersed treatment facilities
along with a continuum of community-based
treatment and supervision programs.

Over time, fully replicating the Missouri
approach will require a four-part systemschange effort: (1) ensuring that everyone in the
organization—and key allies as well—embrace
In addition, states that are serious about
the core values and beliefs; (2) operationalizing
embracing the Missouri approach will need
the core values through changes in facilities,
early on to:
staffing, treatment approach, and organiza• Adopt a group-focused treatment process that 	
tional structure; (3) protecting against internal
keeps youth and staff together in small groups 	
drift though hiring, training, accountability
throughout the treatment process;
procedures, and transparency; and (4) cultivat• Reject coercive methods for maintaining
ing and sustaining external support from key
safety—no hardware, limited use of
constituencies in state government, courts, and
isolation—and rely instead upon a relationcommunities.
ships-based approach enforced through 24/7
The states of Louisiana and New Mexico, as
staff supervision;
well as the District of Columbia and Santa


“The system must
relinquish the traditional
correctional values of
punishment and slowly
grow a new system
rooted in the values of
treatment, compassion,
and accountability.
Practices cannot produce
good results when used
apart from the values.”
—Cynthia Osborne

For any state interested in replicating
the Missouri approach—as a whole or
in part—the first essential step must
be to embrace the mission of helping
delinquent youth make meaningful
and lasting behavioral changes and
make it the agency’s central focus.  
Clara County, California, have begun to study
and replicate the Missouri approach within their
own juvenile justice systems. And fortunately,
they are receiving substantial assistance from
a nonprofit agency founded in 2005 to help
export the Missouri approach to other juris­
dictions. Run by the former longtime director
of DYS, Mark Steward, the Missouri Youth
Services Institute provides intensive training
and consulting support to aid in replication.
This aid, however, is available only to jurisdictions that demonstrate a strong commitment to
enacting Missouri-style reforms. “We don’t want
places touting Missouri approaches unless they
actually mean to use them,” Steward says.
Even in jurisdictions where the Missouri Youth
Services Institute is providing assistance, the
change process is painstaking, and progress is
sometimes slow. Yet, in an era when major abuse


scandals have erupted in California, Texas, New
York, Ohio, Florida, and many other states, and
when recidivism and failure remain the norm
in juvenile corrections nationwide, the Missouri
model stands out as an attractive alternative well
worth pursuing.	


  1. Feld, Barry C., Bad Kids: Race and the Transformation of the Juvenile Court (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).
  2. Mendel, Richard A., Less Cost, More Safety: Guiding Lights for Reform in Juvenile Justice (Washington, D.C.: American Youth
Policy Forum, 2001).
  3. Mendel, Richard A., “Small Is Beautiful: The Missouri Division of Youth Services,” AdvoCasey, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Baltimore, MD:
Annie E. Casey Foundation, Spring 2003).
  4. “The Right Model for Juvenile Justice,” editorial appearing in the New York Times, October 28, 2007.
  5. Lewan, Todd, “Mo. Tries New Approach on Teen Offenders,” Associated Press, December 29, 2007, downloaded from
website of USA Today,
  6. Korenstein, Amy, The Missouri Model: An Analysis of the Missouri Model in Comparison to the Ohio Department of Youth
Services (Ohio Department of Youth Services, 2006).
  7. Safety data on Missouri facilities was provided by staff at the Missouri Division of Youth Services. Safety data on facilities participating in the Performance-based Standards project was provided by staff at the Council of Juvenile Correctional
  8. Data on suicides in juvenile facilities nationwide come from Hayes, Lindsay M., Juvenile Suicide in Confinement: A National
Survey (Mansfield, MA: National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, 2004); and Mumola, Christopher J. and Noonan,
Margaret E., “Deaths in Custody Statistical Tables,” U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2008, retrieved from the Internet in
October 2008 at
  9. Dedel, Kelly, Assessing the Education of Incarcerated Youth (San Francisco, CA: National Council on Crime and Delinquency,
10. Data on educational progress of DYS youth obtained from Missouri Division of Youth Services Annual Report Fiscal Year 2008
(Jefferson City, MO: Missouri Department of Social Services), and from personal communication with DYS staff.
11. Data on educational progress of Ohio Department of Youth Services youth obtained from Korenstein, Amy, The Missouri
Model: An Analysis of the Missouri Model in Comparison to the Ohio Department of Youth Services, (Ohio Department of Youth
Services, 2006).
12. Data on educational progress of South Carolina youth obtained from South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice Report
Card for 2006 (Columbia, SC: S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice).
13. Academic outcomes study cited Chung, H.L., M. Little, and L. Steinberg, “The Transition to Adulthood for Adolescents in
the Juvenile Justice System: A Developmental Perspective,” in On Your Own Without a Net: The Transition to Adulthood for
Vulnerable Populations, D.W. Osgood, E.M. Foster, C. Flanagan, and G.R. Ruth (Eds.) (University of Chicago Press, 2005).
14. Altschuler, David M. and Brash, Rachel, “Adolescent and Teenage Offenders Confronting the Challenges and Opportunities
of Reentry,” Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, Vol. 2, No. 1, January 2004.
15. Data on percent of DYS youth productively engaged in education or employment at time of discharge were obtained from
Missouri Division of Youth Services Annual Report Fiscal Year 2008 (Jefferson City, MO: Missouri Department of Social
16. Data on Missouri Division of Youth Services budget provided by agency Director Tim Decker.


17. Data on juvenile corrections costs in Florida and Maryland cited in Mendel, “Small Is Beautiful: The Missouri Division of
Youth Services,” AdvoCasey, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation, Spring 2003).
18. North Carolina length of stay data obtained from N.C. Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2007
Annual Report.
19. California length of stay data obtained from California Department of Corrections, Division of Juvenile Justice, Length of Stay
of Division of Juvenile Justice Youth: Calendar Year 2009. Cited figure refers to average length of stay for youth first committed
to state custody (avg. length of stay = 36.5 months). It does not include youth returned to state custody on parole violations
(avg. length of stay = 7.0 months) or those who previously incarcerated youth who were recommitted to the state for new
offense (avg. length of stay = 32.2 months).
20. Cohen, Mark A., and Piquero, Alex R., “New Evidence on the Monetary Value of Saving a High Risk Youth,” Journal of
Quantitative Criminology, Vol. 25, No. 1, 2009.
21. Lombardi comment originally cited in Chen, Stephanie, “Teen Offenders Find a Future in Missouri,” Cable News Network,
August 27, 2009, online article downloaded from the Internet at
offenders. Subsequently clarified by telephone.
22. Author’s calculation, using data from Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. (2008). “Easy Access to the
Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.” Available: Data refer to long-term
secure juvenile correctional facilities operated by states.
23. Tindall quote cited in Deutsch, Albert, Our Rejected Children (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1950).
24. Abrams, Douglas E., A Very Special Place in Life: The History of Juvenile Justice in Missouri (Missouri Juvenile Justice Association, 2003).
25. Cited in Warren, Jenifer, “Spare the Rod, Save the Child,” Los Angeles Times, July 1, 2004.
26. Cambria, Nancy, “Troubled Teens Find Their Match With Abandoned Animals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 30, 2008.
27. Altschuler, David, “Tough and Smart Juvenile Incarceration: Reintegrating Punishment, Deterrence and Rehabilitation,”
St. Louis University Public Law Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1994.
28. Korenstein, Amy, The Missouri Model: An Analysis of the Missouri Model in Comparison to the Ohio Department of Youth
Services (Ohio Department of Youth Services, 2006).


Sources for Recidivism Comparisons

Data on recidivism among Missouri youth released from Division of Youth Services custody were calculated by DYS staff using
data from its own records and from the Missouri Department of Corrections.
Data from other states were found in the following publications:
Arizona – Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections FY 2009 Data Tables, downloaded from the Internet at www.juvenile.
Florida – Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, 2006 Outcome Evaluation Report, downloaded from the Internet at
Indiana – Indiana Department of Corrections, Juvenile Recidivism (2008), downloaded from the Internet at
Maryland – Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, Annual Statistical Report (Fiscal Year 2008), downloaded from the

Internet at
Michigan – Michigan Department of Human Services Bureau of Juvenile Justice, Recidivism for Juvenile Justice Youths (2007),
downloaded from the Internet at
New Jersey – New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission, Preliminary Report on Recidivism of Committed to Juvenile Justice
Commission: 2004 Releases, downloaded from the Internet at
Texas – Texas Legislative Budget Board, Statewide Criminal Justice Recidivism and Revocation Rates, January 2009, downloaded
from the Internet at
Wisconsin – Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Division of Juvenile Corrections 2007 Report, downloaded from the Internet


Design & Production: Kathryn Shagas Design / Photography: © Richard Ross, Marc Cantone, Steve Liss, Dan White

The Annie E. Casey Foundation

701 St. Paul Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
410.547.6624 fax



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