The conservative approach to criminal justice:
fighting crime, supporting victims, and protecting taxpayers.


In July 2012, Missouri worked with representatives from the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project to develop a major justice reinvestment package focused on improving public safety by reducing recidivism. Among other things, the legislation provides for earned-time credits for certain low-level offenders who comply with the terms of their parole or probation, and it imposes swift and certain sanctions for violations of community supervision. The legislation also provides for a cap on the amount of time that low-level offenders may serve for technical violations of parole or probation. Under the bill, HB 1525, “[o]nly certain offenders of Class C and D felonies or drug crimes who are not on lifetime supervision may earn the credits…[and] the court may limit eligibility for offenders of certain felonies.”

This reform package was prompted by the dramatic growth in the Missouri prison population, which doubled over the past two decades and now costs the state $660 million annually. The Justice Reinvestment Act was sponsored by two Republicans: Gary Fuhr in the Missouri House of Representatives and Jack Goodman in the Missouri Senate.

Missouri has also been proactive in using drug courts to combat the state’s acute methamphetmaine problem. The results, measured in terms of felony recidivism rates, have been encouraging. Furthermore, the state spends $14,538 on average to incarcerate an offender, but only $6,190 to treat the offender using a specialized drug court.


Additionally, Missouri is nationally recognized for its pioneering approach to juvenile justice that has controlled costs and reduced recidivism. In an article titled “Missouri turns around troubled teens with homelike settings,” the Lawrence Journal-World highlighted the improved outcomes that resulted from shifting away from large, remote youth lockups to smaller, community-based residential settings that are closer to families, faith-based institutions, and other supports.i The article noted that the successful results explain “why conservatives such as John Ashcroft, the former Missouri senator and U.S. attorney general, and state Supreme Court Justice Stephen Limbaugh joined with liberals such as the late Gov. Mel Carnahan to stick by systemwide reforms initiated in the late 1970s.”

Indeed, the 2008 re-incarceration rate for youths discharged from group homes in Missouri during 2007 or 2008 was 9.6 percent, less than half of the national average.ii Although no type of juvenile residential program is inexpensive, Missouri’s group homes at $118 per youth per day cost less than half of large state lockups in Texas that have a much higher recidivism rate.iii

With this restructuring, the Missouri Department of Social Services, Division of Youth Services (DYS) shifted from the traditional large institutional approach to housing juveniles to a regionalized system of group homes and other community-based facilities. Over the course of several years, juvenile officials found ways to renovate buildings ranging from old middle schools to vacant convents, in order to create these small residential facilities in urban areas.iv The old institutions were eventually transferred to the adult prison system.

Today, throughout the state in both urban and rural areas, DYS operates a full continuum of programs and services, including 32 residential programs with a total of 710 beds. These residential programs serve 72 groups of 10-12 youth.v The programs vary significantly in terms of their level of security, and placement in a particular program is based on the individual’s needs and risk that they present. There are also 10 day-treatment centers scattered throughout the state.vi

Each of the residential facilities is small, set up like a cottage or dormitory. They are designed to feel very unlike a correctional facility. There are no fences or razor wire surrounding the building, and the main living areas are like living rooms, with couches and chairs. This set-up is used for all facilities, including those used to house juvenile murderers.vii Officials report that they have not had problems with escapes or other security concerns.viii

Group homes are the least restrictive (and most common) type of residential environment, typically housing about 10 juveniles in a home-like setting under 24-hour supervision.ix Youth housed in these group homes usually attend school on-site, though some residents continue to attend public schools. Even those residents who attend school on-site can participate in other activities in the community.x

The youth in the group homes have individualized treatment plans and continuously participate in treatment and educational services.  Each facility offers the residents intensive counseling, life skills training, and a fully accredited education program.  Among the issues addressed in treatment, depending upon a particular youth’s needs, are victim empathy, social skills, anger/emotions management, healthy thinking patterns and coping skills, peer influences, substance abuse, and self-esteem, as well as educational and vocational programming.  Services tend to be delivered primarily in a group setting in which group processes and dynamics are examined, but individual and family counseling services are also available.xi

In addition to group homes, DYS operates 12 facilities that provide a moderate structure for youth who require such a level of supervision.  These facilities do not differ from group homes in size or programmatic offerings, but are more secure.  Three of these facilities are located in state parks, where the residents participate in a “Junior Ranger” program, helping to keep the parks clean.xii The agency also has seven highly structured secure care programs (locked facilities) that target more serious offenders, who have longer offense histories or who have committed crimes against people. xiii These facilities too are small and community-based, despite the population they serve. The state no longer has any large, remotely located youth lockups.

Each residential group of 10 to 12 youth is assigned a youth group leader as well as one full-time and one part-time teacher. xiv In addition, each facility is staffed with up to 10 youth specialists (depending on the level of security of the facility), who cover shifts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. xv

Missouri’s success with this model has been nothing short of remarkable.  In 2007, Missouri boasted a three-year juvenile recidivism rate of 7.2%, a figure that has remained very steady over a five-year period of evaluation. xvi Juvenile re-incarceration rates in other states are typically several times that. On other outcome measures, Missouri’s record is also enviable:  youth in these programs demonstrate significant educational gains, compared to same age peers. When it comes to reading, writing, and math achievement, more than 70% of the juveniles progress at rates equal to or greater than their peers in the community. xvii Also, by the time of discharge from DYS facilities, 23% of the youth over 16 either had graduated from high school or had obtained a GED. xviii

i Todd Lewan, “Missouri turns around troubled teens with homelike settings,” Lawrence Journal-World, 30 Dec. 2007.
ii Missouri Department of Social Services, Division of Youth Services 2008 Annual Report, 21 Jan. 2009, 23 Nov. 2009.
iii Michele Deitch, Texas Public Policy Foundation, “Keeping Our Kids at Home:  Expanding Community-Based Facilities for Adjudicated Youth in Texas,” May 2009.
iv Emily Ramshaw, “Missouri’s focus on therapeutic rehab amounts to ‘unprisonment’,” Dallas Morning News, 16 Dec. 2007.
v Missouri Division of Youth Services website:  http://www.dss.mo.gov/dys/faq/genopt.htm.
vi Id.
vii Blue Ribbon Task Force Report, supra note 2, p. 28.
viii Interview with Mark Steward, Director, Missouri Youth Services International, by Michele Deitch, February 9, 2009.
ix National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), “State Juvenile Justice Profiles: Missouri,” November 7, 2007.
x Id.
xi Missouri Division of Youth Services website.
xii Interview with Mark Steward, supra note 45.
xiii NCJJ profile, supra note 46.
xiv Missouri Division of Youth Services website.
xv Id.
xvi Missouri Division of Youth Services, FY 2007 Annual Report, p. 18.
xvii Id.
xviii Id.