At least a dozen states have studied Missouri’s youth corrections system in recent years. A new project hopes to usher in a national reform movement patterned after the Show-Me state, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The initiative involves the retirement of the man who may be the most responsible for transforming Missouri’s system. Mark Steward will step down as head of Missouri’s Division of Youth Services, a post he has held for 16 years. During his tenure, the state has earned a national reputation for its low reoffender rates.
The Missouri approach rejects locking up most youth offenders in prisonlike correction centers. Instead, Missouri closed down its large centers in favor of community-based programs that emphasize reform over punishment. Steward plans to form a national institute, based in Missouri, to help other states mimic Missouri’s system. “It’s almost like Missouri would become the training lab for the rest of the country,” he said. The effort comes at a time when some are predicting a national overhaul in youth corrections, brought about in part by federal findings by of civil rights abuses nationwide.