A description of the Training School for Boys, a state-run youth incarceration and correctional institution, best illustrates Missouri's historic approach to juvenile justice. The Training School, which at one time held over 500 juvenile delinquents, was an incarceration-style correctional environment and did not differ significantly from facilities that housed adult offenders. Coercion and abuse at the Training School was commonplace, both at the hands of fellow inmates and of penitentiary guards.
The Missouri Department of Social Services' Division of Youth Services (DYS) represents a complete overhaul of Missouri's juvenile justice system. It began by doing nothing less than closing the Training School—predicated on the value of treatment and accountability over punishment and the belief that the both the public and the youth are better served by a system which addresses the root causes of misbehavior. Now dubbed the "Missouri Model," DYS programming has emerged as a national model for its social service offerings and provision of safe and humane environments for juvenile offenders, all the while achieving cost-effectiveness and positive outcomes for youth.
There are four cornerstones to the Missouri Model. The first is placement in the least restrictive environment possible; based on the results of a comprehensive risk and needs assessment, youth are placed in one of four levels of care—community placement, community, moderate, or secure residential—that offer varying limitations on privileges. Second, a "group systems" approach is employed wherein youth are divided into family-like living clusters of ten to twelve persons. Youth Specialists and Group Leaders guide group therapy sessions; and teachers, an integral part of the treatment team, provide tailored educational services. All youth, as part of the Universal Case Management effort, the third pillar in the Division of Youth Services model, are assigned a service coordinator who acts as their advocate and coordinates individualized treatment plans that often includes education assistance, job placement, and aftercare support of youth in transition from probation. Finally, the Missouri Model emphasizes family and community engagement by providing family therapy services and establishing community liaison councils, which elicit community members as partners and advocates of youth emerging from the juvenile justice system.
The DYS 2007 Annual Report lists the positive outcomes that can be attributed to the implementation of this exemplary model: As of 2007, recidivism and adult incarceration rates were in the 7–9 percent range annually, significantly lower than those in other states that use similar metrics to quantify recidivism rates: Florida (29 percent), Maryland (30 percent), and Louisiana (45 percent). The DYS model has successfully improved the safety and well-being of its youth through the provision of a humane and therapeutic environment, evident in the comparison of the numbers of violent incidents in juvenile detention facilities in Missouri as compared to Ohio: In Ohio in 2005, there were 1,884 incarcerated youth between whom there were 1,192 physical and 42 sexual assaults. In that same period, Missouri incarcerated 1,205 and saw 263 physical and 2 sexual assaults. Education Achievement is also used to measure success: In 2007, graduations and GED success rates reached an all time high of over 23 percent youth discharged from DYS custody over 16 years of age.
*This program was the winner of the special Annie E. Casey Innovations Award in Children and Family System Reform.