The Missouri Division of Youth Services' Innovative Approach to Juvenile Corrections Staffing

By Steward, Mark D.; Andrade, Amanda | Corrections Today, August 2004 | Go to article overview

The Missouri Division of Youth Services' Innovative Approach to Juvenile Corrections Staffing


Steward, Mark D., Andrade, Amanda, Corrections Today


As the old adage goes, "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later." In the field of corrections, that saying is certainly true. Correctional systems that do not provide the proper resources on the front end, will pay later when offenders return to the system. The revolving door that results is both costly and inefficient. This sentiment has resonated with Missouri's executive and legislative leaders during the past 25 years. Their commitment of money and support allowed the Missouri Division of Youth Services (DYS) to overhaul the juvenile justice system. Other states have responded similarly to stop the seemingly unavoidable graduation of youths from juvenile into adult correctional systems.

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With increasing interest during the past several years, there has been significant attention given to investing state money in the services and programs provided by juvenile justice systems nationwide. Executive, legislative and community leaders are deciding to invest in juvenile justice programs in an effort to redefine the available paths that young offenders may follow. Rather than having training schools and juvenile justice programs act as "feeder" groups for the adult prison systems, states are looking at the need for effective juvenile justice systems that divert youths from proceeding deeper into the correctional system and refocus youths on their individual potential.

To maintain programs that successfully keep juveniles out of adult prisons, the appropriate type of workforce must be hired and retained specifically for juvenile justice systems. A deliberate organizational and employment plan must be created and deployed to address the expectation of the agency's unwavering commitment to the safe and secure care of youths. From the agency director to the frontline worker, the expectations must be taught and practiced.

When DYS began the process of developing and managing the appropriate workforce for the unique population it serves, officials started with a basic premise of providing a quality program that would result in the successful rehabilitation of youths within the agency's care. With all the new advancements, insights and education available regarding positive treatment methods for adolescents, juvenile justice organizations have continuing opportunities to review the needs of their clients, the programs they provide, and how their resources can best serve and support youths and staff at every level of the organization.

The treatment and rehabilitation programs that are employed in the nation's juvenile justice systems are as varied as the states themselves. As families, local communities, government, and program and management staff continue to look for ways to redefine opportunities for juvenile offender rehabilitation, more people are beginning to see that a significant investment in the development and treatment of individual youths is an investment that has far-reaching implications for the individual, the family, the community, the taxpayers and society as a whole. Presently, many states are reviewing their existing systems and examining new possibilities and opportunities for contributing to the rehabilitation of youths in ways that provide a significant return on the public's investment.

Throughout the years, DYS has been afforded fiscal and program support, enabling staff to develop new programs and treatment methods for incarcerated youths. However, the agency considers its efforts a work in progress. Staff are continually looking for ways to integrate and solidify the successful best practice components of agency programs, while working to reassess aspects of the programs with new ideas outside traditional correctional thinking.

The Missouri Experience

Missouri's juvenile justice system changed dramatically 25 years ago with the decision to convert a system of large rural training schools, which housed about 500 male and 150 female juveniles, to the Missouri Department of Corrections to use for housing the adult inmate population. …

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