Youth justice facing change

| 17/03/2011

(CNS): Consultants contracted to help overhaul the local youth justice system have arrived in Cayman to begin working with government and related agencies to start addressing the country’s youth rehabilitation problems. The community services minister said this week that his ministry has been working towards a shift in practice and has turned to the award-winning Missouri Model. Mark Steward, the director and founder of the now critically acclaimed youth system, along with members of his team are here to help with the development of a young offenders’ facility and to assist with an interim programme already started to intervene with at risk youngsters in Cayman in an effort to keep them from the criminal justice system in the first place.

Speaking at the opening of the working session on Tuesday, which drew together participants from government, NGOs and support groups, Mike Adam said the country had not been providing the best possible “therapeutic interventions and facilities necessary to turn these children around” as he explained why his ministry was looking to the Missouri model.

“The issues that our youth face are as diverse and complex as you can imagine and, therefore, our response as a country cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Innovation, creativity and a little ‘thinking outside the box’ is required,” he added.

The Missouri model is a philosophy, explained the creator Mark Steward, who added that while it is not about locking kids up, it is by no means a soft approach. The model’s success by comparison to other youth justice systems is quite remarkable.

Steward revealed that 70% of the youngsters that go through the Missouri system stay out of trouble, while between 40-90% of kids in other systems go back to jail. Because of the model’s emphasis on safety, youth in other correctional facilities are 4.5 times more likely to be assaulted and staff 13 times more likely to be assaulted. Moreover, young people in the regular prison system are 200 times more likely to be locked in isolation for one reason or another that in the Missouri system.

“The Missouri facilities are safer and it’s about helping kids not hurting them,” Steward said. He said that in many cases the first reaction to the systemwas that it was coddling the youngsters who had committed serious crimes.

“There is nothing soft however about the model as the youngsters who come to the facilities are forced to face and deal with the issues that led them into crime or the behavioural problems and no one gets out until they begin to really change,” he added, stating that although some kids try and fake it the intensity of the programme soon sees through those attempts.

Steward said the fundamental philosophy behind the model is to change the behaviour of the young people and improve outcomes, no matter how terrible their family situation, the drug abuse, the neglect or the violence that the young people have suffered. The model equips them to deal with the circumstance differently.

The model was developed in Missouri over 30 years ago as a result of the terrible youth correctional system in the state. With St Lois one of the most violent cities in the US, Steward said the state was forced to examine how it was dealing with some of the country’s most serious delinquent young violent offenders. As a result it moved away from a traditional prison environment and began developing a system that looked at long term change. “Even the most serious offenders and toughest kids improve in this system, which produces tremendous results,” he added.

The model has evolved over a long time period and offers different levels of care, from a family scenario to the more secure level for youths given adult sentences. Although housed securely and safely, the young people are not locked in cells (although each facility has one cell room for emergency situations) but they are very closely supervised by staff and peer groups at all times. The centres, Steward explained, are home environments not prisons, which is a stark contrast.

Steward’s colleague, Director of Consulting Dr Pili Robinson, said the Missouri model was not a set programme. There is no book or manual but the model offered an individualized process for kids and their families that was all about self exploration and getting below the tip of the iceberg of the acting out behaviour. “It is not cookie-cutter approach,” Dr Robinson said, adding that it wasn’t about simply passing through levels of good behaviour or certain achievements; it was about change and real growth. “It’s not just a check off list, it’s not come here and be good; we want them to come here and change.”

The youngsters participate in highly structured daily activities, which the experts said was crucial. Giving young delinquents lots of free time, which is what happens in other youth correctional facilities, gives them the opportunity to get into trouble. Once in a peer group, the youngsters stay with that group and do everything together. When a kid misbehaves, Dr Robinson revealed, the situation is dealt with then and there. They are never asked to leave the room, for example, during a lesson, as would happen in usual school. He explained that everyone in the group stops what they are doing and gets involved to deal with the behaviour or problem.

The model is, after three decades, finally beginning to catch the attention of numerous other states. Steward said that it was about ten years ago that the model came to national prominence and many other places are now looking at how they can introduce the system, but he warned that it takes time because it requires a great deal of change for the administrators of the youth system.

“The work for staff is a lot more challenging than simply locking kids up in cells and keeping them confined,” and he said it’s hard for government administrations and the people employed by the state to buy into the hard work required for the model to succeed.

Mike Adam noted that it would also take time to adapt the philosophy here in the Cayman Islands and warned the shift in practice was not a “magic pill”. He said there would be challenges ahead as it was a multi-dimensional treatment approach which has evolved over many, many years of trial and error. “We must also remember that this model will have to be “’localised’ to capture our cultural nuances,” Adam said, but the working session was the first step on the journey.

See documentary on Missouri Model

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Comments (8)

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  1. David Jones says:

    This is not America.  We should stop trying to copy American ideas. 

    • Law and Order, Your Greatest Nightmare! says:

      This is our country and we will copy the ideas that wewant. American Ideas, Trinidad ideas,  Bahamian we decide what we want and one more time we are asking foreigners to STAY OUT OF OUR INTERNAL AFFAIRS!

      Only drug traffickers and fire arms dealers would object to the rehabilitation of our youth rescuing them from crime.  It means the drug lords and gun and firearms/weapons dealers will loose their footmen who work for them poisoning the Cayman Youth with crack cocaine and illegal weapons! their flunkies will  at last get the chance to change their ways! ha ha ha!

  2. Anon says:

    Another magic solution model from overseas.CIMI didn’t work with our thugs and slack young women. And Missouri/”localised to capture our CULTURAL nuances”?? Like which gun you use? Is it it caribbean or US etc etc ……….
    God spare us

    • Anonymous says:

      PLEASE!!!!! The CIMI to me worked in many ways, you don’t hear of that many students who attended there being repeated inmates at HMP!! Most of them have became very successful adults holding down a job and the so called slack chics you so call, call them have came a long way too.

      But at the end of the day no matter what kind of resolutions our Government seeks, the change has to come from the person wanting to change.

    • Wisest Owl says:

      As far as I and many others see it, Yes adapting many of the American policies is needed in the Cayman Islands. Lets start with amending our constitution as close to the U,S. constitution as possible.  Everybody has rights in the US constitution.

      Looks like the U.S. don’t look so bad after all because when we lose this country completely to independence and a Dicktator when all the money is gone and the crack cocane and weapons in running the country then you’ll wish you had US trained police to take these criminal bad boys down.

      Bad boys bad boys, what you gona  do, what you gona  do when we come for you?!

      Bad Boys?

      Which gun do people use, well its called Education something you do not wish for the youth of Cayman! Sad to say but I recognize you as a politician that could help these youth and refused to do so when you all were in power! Shame on you.

  3. Timmy the Turtle says:

    I get it – the lunatics will run the Asylum.

  4. Liverpool says:

    I second this.

    You are so right. They were not even thinking about a resolution to the problem. They were pushed to do this, this government is immune to the real needs of the people. So is the PPM.. they’re no better.

    Entertaining developers and taking their marching orders from the Chamber of Commerce is more to their taste. That’s why the young kids are participating in crimes, there are no jobs for them when they graduate from school. The jobs are being sold in exchange for big bucks rolling in for the price of a work permit keeping Caymanian youths and every  good willed Caymanian  unemployed. . Its a crying shame.

    Let us observe with keeness if this is just a publicity stunt and an exchange of dollars  in so called consultation fees only OR whether they are serious and mean real business. This government is famous for hiding behind consultants, even though we did not elect the consultants to work for us, nor do we hold them accountable.


  5. The governator says:

    Thanks   Mr.Mike Adam,

    But until Ms. Florence Goring-Nozza ‘s article  pushed government towards the introduction of a "Freedom School"  for the troubled youth of the Cayman Islands, You and Rolston Anglin and the entire UDP and PPM were doing NOTHING!   The Missouri Model is the  1964 introduced Freedom School juvenile system program! Yes itwas first introduced in Missouri and ‘Chicago, Illinois the crime capital of the world.

    Thanks to Ms. Florence Goring-Nozza for twisting your arms into submission ONE MORE TIME! and I hope the people of the Cayman Islands appreciate this. Thank God we have people in the private sector that work harder than government to bring about change than those getting paid mega bucks and doing absolutely nothing, but going on world tours..

    Thanks Flo Keep on kicking their buts.