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St. Louis Sees Success in Transforming Juvenile Probation

Given new research on adolescent behavior and brain development, the Annie E. Casey Foundation calls for new approaches to juvenile probation programs. (Pixabay)
Given new research on adolescent behavior and brain development, the Annie E. Casey Foundation calls for new approaches to juvenile probation programs. (Pixabay)
May 11, 2018

ST. LOUIS – For more than a decade, St. Louis has been transforming its juvenile probation programs, pulling away from courtrooms and offering more of a family approach to reducing conflicts. The changes are listed as examples of success in a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Reforms include probation officers working directly with families. Catherine Horejes was a juvenile officer for 38 years before becoming chief deputy in the St. Louis Family Court Juvenile Division.

She says they've started programs like trauma-based and motivational-interview training for staff – and they've seen a 59 percent drop in new charges for young people on probation.

"We've evolved from, say, a compliance-focused court to now a needs-based [system],” says Horejes. “And that means, what is needed for this youth and family to be in a better place in life than when they entered our system?"

St. Louis now has 14 neighborhood accountability boards around the city, with volunteers helping young people establish community relationships that keep them out of the court system.

The Casey Foundation research says traditional probation programs that focus mainly on punishment just aren't as effective. Steve Bishop, senior associate with the AECF Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, says programs that include counseling and restorative justice keep more youths from re-offending.

"Families and communities are going to have a much more profound impact on young people for the long term than even the most impactful and effective probation officers,” says Bishop.

The report calls for new intervention methods, like offering voluntary victim-dialogue sessions, anger management and life skills, as St. Louis is doing – and letting go of outdated methods focused on compliance.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - MO