Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fundamentals of Evidence-Based Policy-Making

Evidence-based policy-making is an attempt to identify and adopt policies scientifically proven to achieve desired results.  In the area of criminal justice, the ultimate goal is to reduce crime while at the same time reducing spending.  Believe it or not, this has been accomplished in many states.

So what are the fundamentals of evidence-based policy making in the criminal justice system?  What principles result in less crime at lower cost? Here they are:

  • Sort offenders scientifically by risk – Save the expensive jail and prison space for people who are statistically high risk.  In bond decisions, sentencing decisions, and parole board decisions, seek to avoid incarceration of low and moderate risk individuals and adopt community-based alternatives instead.
  •  Base intervention programs on science – Literally thousands of programs all over the country have been studied and evaluated for their success in reducing things such as failure to appear, committing new crimes while out on bail, and recidivism after re-entry into the community.  The research is ample and best practices are being identified.  Just as an example, the research is clear that most programs need to invest more in supervision of people identified as high risk and less in supervision of low and moderate risk individuals.  Implementation of evidence-based practices results in average decrease in crime of 10 to 20 percent.
  • Harness technology – Technological innovations have made supervision of people before trial, on probation, or on parole, much easier and effective.
  • Make sanctions for violations certain and proportionate – Probation officers with high caseloads, a lack of a range of appropriate sanctions, and who have to go through administrative hurdles to get a sanction imposed,  often delay seeking sanctions until a really serious offense has been committed.  HB 463 introduces a mandate for graduated sanctions to be imposed on those who violate probation or parole and gives courts the ability to grant probation officers the authority to impose those sanctions without prior approval of the court for each violation.  This reduces delay, reduces time probation officers have to spend in court, and reduces time violators spend in jail.
  • Measure progress – Ways must be identified and adopted to measure progress throughout the entire criminal justice system.  Which jails, prisons are saving money?  What is happening to the recidivism rate?  Which circuits or districts are reducing failure to appear among those released prior to trial?  How many more people are paying restitution?  How many more people are completing treatment in community-based services rather than being incarcerated? 
  • Create incentives for success -  HB 463 contains provisions for creating incentives for success at many levels – that of the individual probationer or parolee, of a circuit or district court, of statewide programs.

For  a more extensive discussion of these principles and their use see the Kentucky Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act Report

Contributed by Glenn McClister