Harvard University has recognized Missouri’s youth correctional system as an innovative national model. The Missouri Division of Youth Services program is one of six winners of the Innovations in American Government Award. The DYS program emphasizes therapeutic rehabilitation instead of punishment for delinquent young people. Given the therapeutic rehabilitation approach some people might assume the program is soft, but they would be wrong said Director Tim Decker with the division of youth services.
"To those I challenge them to spend 24 hours in one of our programs and see if they think it’s soft to live with 10 or 12 other young people," Decker said. "Be together all day circling up and resolving their problems as they go through the day a very rigorous structured schedule of daily school, daily treatment sessions, visits with families and the things that go into the work that they do in the programs."
Unlike other programs, the Missouri DYS program works with the parents too. Facilitators in the program approach the parents as partners and experts.
"One of the first things that we do when parents meet with us for the first time is we say we will never know your child as well as you do we need you to be our partners in this treatment process and advise us along the way," Decker said. "That’s a very different approach as well."
Part of the award is $100,000. The foundation stipulated the money must be used to replicate activities, he said.
"Our big audacious goal is nationwide replication of at least the core tenants, beliefs and philosophies of the Missouri approach," Decker said. "What we will do is we will look at what the smartest investments of those dollars will be to achieve that."
Since 2003, 25 to 30 states have visited DYS facilities. Several states are making progress changing their juvenile correctional systems to one that more closely resembles Missouri’s, Decker said.
Click here to view DYS officials accepting the award and see their presentation.