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Examiner
  • McCune remembered for its successes

  • Friday was a day for some sad goodbyes but also a day to count up successes.



    Staff and others at the McCune Residential Center in eastern Independence gathered to for an open house and closing ceremony. After 103 years in operation, the facility for 12- to 17-year-old boys who have gotten into trouble with the law closed several weeks ago.

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  • Friday was a day for some sad goodbyes but also a day to count up successes.
    Staff and others at the McCune Residential Center in eastern Independence gathered to for an open house and closing ceremony. After 103 years in operation, the facility for 12- to 17-year-old boys who have gotten into trouble with the law closed several weeks ago.
    “Hard decision is an understatement,” 16th Circuit Court Presiding Judge Marco A. Roldan said. “It was probably the last thing we wanted to do.”
    But the judges were looking at hard financial considerations when they announced the closing in October, and they stressed this point: The best option for a young offender is to find ways to keep him in the community, with family, connected to programs and resources to turn things around.
    “The best place for kids is home,” said Arthurine Criswell, director of residential services.
    That’s been the push for several years, and it’s worked, officials say.
    “It’s a bittersweet ending,” said Tyra Snow, facilty manager at McCune and now in the same job at the Hilltop Residential Center south of Lakewood, another Family Court facility.
    Judge Henry L. McCune was “a man ahead of his time,” says the plaque on a commemorative mural that will hang at Hilltop. He saw a more constructive alternative to the practice a century ago of sending young offenders to work farms or even to adult prisons.
    Criswell said McCune put young felony offenders in a strictly regimented environment: when to get up, when to eat, when to exercise, when to go to class. A typical offender might be high school age but not at that grade level simply he hasn’t been going to school – but typically would advance two grade levels in math and reading while at McCune, Snow said.
    “What we try to give them is structure with focus on their education,” Criswell said.
    Last year, for example, seven young men earned their GEDs.
    “For some of our kids, they would be the first ones in their family to achieve that level of education,” Criswell said.
    Judge Roldan stressed that the Fort Osage School District has been an essential partner for many years.
    “We cannot give enough credit to the Fort Osage School District because they did an incredible job here,” he said.
    There was a wood shop, an auto shop and a culinary arts program. The boys had a community garden and made money for pizza or nachos, Criswell said – something they normally would not be allowed to have.
    There were even parenting classes, as many residents had already had children.
    “So we talked to them about what it means to raise a child – what it costs to raise a child,” Snow said.
    Page 2 of 2 - The facility – which Criswell stressed had a hard-won accreditation from the American Correctional Association – often had to deal with a range of issues besides the crime that landed the young man there. In addition to frequently having fallen behind in school, there are medical issues.
    “Many of the kids who come into our care have never seen a dentist,” Criswell said.
    Fundamentally, Snow said, officials in this field have to believe that these are young people for whom something has gone wrong – but that the potential remains to turn things around.
    “Success for me is seeing a young man leave here and not offend again or be dead,” she said.
    Turning things around means working with families, getting at the root causes of problems, in what Roldan described as a holistic approach.
    “Every family left here with a plan,” Snow said.
    Some of the tools to leave young offenders at home included electronic bracelets and the Night Light program, under which a sheriff’s deputy can show up at the house at midnight and make sure the young man is where he’s supposed to be. These days, Criswell said, the criteria for sending a youth to a home like McCune are straightforward: Does he pose a risk to the public? Is he a flight risk, that is, will he disappear before his next court date?
    “So we have worked really hard to keep kids in their homes,” Criswell said.
    McCune took young men from all over Jackson County, but now – although referrals from Family Court are at a 20-year low – there’s a chance that more young offenders will be turned over to the state Division of Youth Services, meaning they could sent anywhere in the state – possibly far from family.
    “They provide good services, but it’s kind of the end of the road,” Criswell said.
    Sometimes, Snow said, it just takes young people a long time to hear and finally act on the advice and opportunities adults are providing.
    “I’ve had numerous kids,” she said, “come back and say ‘thank you – I wish I would have listened.’”
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