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Missouri Pays Price for Juvenile Crime

April 19, 1996
By: Emily Goodin
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri is beginning to pay the price for its crackdown on juvenile crime - construction of eight new youth facilities across the state.

"There's not enough juvenile facilities for kids who have committed offenses," said Mark Steward, director of Youth Services.

According to DYS, six of those facilities are the result of a $20 million bond issue passed in August 1995. These centers are being built to combat the rising number of youths placed in the custody of Youth Services.

Eight years ago the division had about 700 youths in their custody. Last year they had over 13,000. That is a ten percent increase per year through the eight years. The average age is 15 and they are 90 percent male, 10 percent female.

The other two centers, which will house 60 youths at a approximate cost of $7.7 million, are provided for in the social services budget for fiscal year 1997. These two centers are a result of the juvenile crime bill signed by Gov. Mel Carnahan last year.

According to the law, any child charged with a serious felony, such as murder, would be tried as an adult. It also requires any child from age 12 and up to be tried as an adult for committing any felony. The previous age was 14. Another provision in the law allows judges to establish the length of time the youth will be in DYS custody, where before DYS determined the length of stay.

"We're working with the courts because they know we have a limited number of beds," Steward said. "But the division still has flexibility."

For example, if a judge sentenced a youth to the custody of DYS for a year, the division has the flexibility to move the youth from program to program. The youth can start out in a group home and then move to day treatment, as the division sees fit.

The law also allows dual sentencing. Dual sentencing deals with youths that a judge determines will be tried as an adult. A convicted youth can be sentenced to division of Youth Services until age 18 and then be sent to the Corrections Department.

Dual sentencing won't be going into effect until the dual sentencing center is built, which will be in a couple of years, Steward said.

According to DYS, the two centers under the state budget provisions are being built in southeastern Missouri. Eighteen cities have submitted applications. A decision is planned for sometime next month.

We're looking for community incentives and property available, good access, where the kids are coming from, and the labor pool, Steward said. The building process will take 18 months to two years.

The other six, in response to the growing number of youths committing crimes, will provide 200 new bed spaces in centers located in:

* St. Louis

* Hillsboro

* Fulton

* Montgomery City, which will be the dual sentencing center

* Mt. Vernon

* Rich Hill, which will be non-secure.

Steward said the division got a jump start on the Fulton special treatment center and it will be the prototype for the other centers.

The center under construction in Fulton will expand their capacity from 19 beds to 30 beds. Its opening is scheduled for March 1997.

"Kids bubble up through the system and we're pretty much the top bubble," said Larry Strecker, manager of the special treatment unit.

Special treatment centers work by putting residents through a strict schedule of schooling, counseling, and social interaction.

"It's very structured," Strecker said. "The first rule is everyone stays safe. Many kids have never been safe in their life.

The center develops an individual treatment program for each resident. The goals are specific to that person, such as family conflict, behavioral adjustment, anger management, conflict management, or communication.

The average stay is 8 months. The Fulton Center has a 55 - 60 percent success rate compared to the overall division success rate of 85 percent.

"In six months it's difficult to break a pattern that has developed over the years," Strecker said. "We're encouraged by the opportunity to extend of our length of stay as a result of the new beds entering our system."

After youths leave the program they return to school or the center helps them receive their GED. There is also a tracker program to follow-up with the youths regarding schooling and counseling.

Currently, there are 25 youth centers across the state, ranging from group homes from secure care. They provide 500 bed spaces. Division of Youth Services plans to increase that by over 50 percent - over 250 new beds. The average stay is seven months in a residential program and four months in after care.

"We'd like to increase it to nine to 12 months if needed in residential care and nine to 12 months in after care," Steward said.

The entire building process of the eight new centers is scheduled to be completed in two years.