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Youth facility will adopt “radically different” philosophy, minister says

Members from the Ministry of Community Affairs, Gender and Housing L-R: Dorine Whittaker, Chief Officer; Sophy Broad, Policy Officer; Debbie-Ann Whittaker, Senior Policy Officer; and Hon. Mike Adam, Minister.

A brand new facility, offering a new approach for the treatment of at-risk 12-18 year olds is scheduled to be built adjacent to Fairbanks prison.

Senior representatives from the Ministry of Community Affairs, Gender and Housing, including Hon Minister Mike Adam, recently discussed their plans with iNews.

The new facility, due to be finished by May 2013, will adopt the principles of ‘The Missouri Model,’ a system of rehabilitation which developed in the US state of Missouri.

It focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment, encouraging young people to dig deep and confront their issues, typically within a peer-group setting of ten or twelve.

Early in August, Missouri Youth Services Institute (MYSI) staff member Dr. Pili Robinson spent two weeks training Bonavenure Boys home staff in Missouri Model principles and techniques.

The new ideas will be put into practice both at Bonaventure and Francis Bodden at the beginning of September, part of an interim phase, which will see application of the new ideas in advance of the new purpose-built facility.

The new building will accommodate two groups of 12 – 18 year old boys, around twenty in all. Although it is envisioned that the facility will be initially for only the boys, there is potential to add separate facilities for girls in the future, should the need arise.

An important aspect of the Missouri system is that the architecture – the entire layout of the facility – should be specifically designed to support the system’s core principles.

As Ministry Policy Officer, Sophy Broad explained, “The facility has to be built a certain way – so it’s open dorms, it’s more home like and there are no cells…it’s not your traditional juvenile detention facility.”

Minister, Hon. Mike Adam described the philosophy employed by the Missouri Model as being “radically different.”

“It’s a whole different approach…we are moving from a correctional facility what you know now as a prison system, to a more therapeutic philosophy,” he said.

“Each client that comes in is assessed and they’re provided with individual programmes. In other words we are treating each one depending on their symptoms when they’re diagnosed.”

The core idea of the Missouri Model is for young people to actively explore their own issues, however uncomfortable that process may be. Because the change they undergo is internalised, it remains, as part of them, long after they have left the formal structure of the institution.

Group dynamics are utilised as an integral part of the programme. The natural desire for young people to want to ‘belong,’ often resulting in the formation of gang culture especially among boys, is harnessed for good in the Missouri model. Each group member comes under the scrutiny from the other members of the group, so that participation in therapeutic group programmes is enforced by positive peer pressure.

Minister Adam had an answer for those who might think of the Missouri Model as a cushy alternative to a more traditional approach. “If you send someone to Northward now, they’re just marking time and counting the days until they’ll get out…this institution is more demanding on the individual. You have to confront your issues – what’s causing you to do these things. This is tougher because you are addressing the core issues of the individual. And with that discomfort it brings change.”

An artist’s impression of the proposed purpose-built facility

And there’ll be no opportunity for ‘faking’ participation, according to the Ministry’s Chief Officer, Dorine Whittaker. One of the Missouri Model principles is that there is no set time period for a young offender to stay inside, she said. Rather, release is determined on the progress they make and on how well they engage with the programme.

The changes began in January 2010 when a working group, taken from a larger group of stakeholders who were involved in rehabilitation, was formed in order to look at ways of implementing Cayman’s new constitution, as Ms. Whittaker explained, “What we have is a constitutional requirement to separate the juveniles, that’s person’s under seventeen, from the adults, by 6 November 2013. Based on that and the local expertise we have looked at how we can do things differently. We got a suggestion from one of the group members that we should look at the Missouri concept.”

Following discussions, MYSI representatives came to Cayman to meet with stakeholders in March this year when plans to adopt the Missouri Method were officially announced.


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