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The Missouri Model, focused on therapeutic rehabilitation, intensive supervision, and reentry support, has been touted for many decades as an exemplary approach to juvenile justice that puts the devastatingly archaic California style of congregate, institutional, and punitive care to shame. Advocates have frequently pushed for California to finally shed its demonstrably unsuccessful approach for the more enlightened, cost effective, and proven successful Missouri-style system. Critics have hit back by postulating that the Missouri Model would not be appropriate for the current DJF youth demographic: a significantly older and more criminally sophisticated group with more intensive treatment needs than those Missouri serves. 

However, in recent years, Santa Clara County entirely renovated and adapted its approach to juvenile justice and in particular to its serious juvenile offenders. CJCJ staff recently toured Santa Clara County ranch facilities and noted more than a passing resemblance to the Missouri Model principal tenets. Moreover, CJCJ staff were told that the ranch facilities currently house youths who would otherwise be sent to DJF

What are the principles behind the Missouri Model, and can they be adapted to serve the current DJF population? According to this recent publication by the Annie E. Casey Foundation there are six main characteristics underscoring Missouri’s approach: 

1. Small, local, home-style, secure facilities. 2. A closely supervised, rigorous group treatment process offering extensive and ongoing individual attention.3. Constant staff supervision and positive peer relationships.4. Development of academic, pre-vocational, and communications skills and insight into youths own behavior. 5. Involvement of family members as partners in the treatment process and plans for aftercare. 6. Support and supervision for youths transitioning home, including intensive aftercare and close monitoring and mentoring in the first crucial weeks following release. It goes on to examine and debunk concern that it is not adaptable or appropriate for older and more criminally sophisticated youth, such as those in DJF, and even provides next steps for states hoping to replicate the model. 

An example of this adaptation in California can be seen at Santa Clara County’s James Ranch, that currently serves serious, felonious, violent male offenders who are often gang entrenched. The ranch, which once housed youths in a large and dangerous dormitory environment, now houses youths in pods of 12 and have a reduced staffing ratio of 1:6. Moreover, staff report that as a result of extensive training they have learned to provide therapeutic care and discard their once custodial approach to programming. While the Ranch continues to improve its reentry and family involvement services, the facility transformation has borne immediate success, as the NCCD reports a decrease in violence within the Ranch, and an increase in youth’s successful transition to the community. 

Given that DJF currently houses only 1,325 (Nov. 2010) youths and costs the California taxpayer over $200,000 per youth per year, and in order to provide a rehabilitative environment the current facilities would need to be demolished and rebuilt; isn’t it time we consider an alternative method of dealing with our DJF population? Moreover, innovative counties like Santa Clara have proven that given a fraction of that DJF funding they can adequately and successfully provide appropriate and genuinely rehabilitative care to DJF’s youth demographic. 

~Selena Teji

Sentencing Service Program Case Specialist