California Probation, Parole & Correctional Association: 2018 Conference

Training session presented to practitioners and policymakers focused on the limitations of official recidivism as a justice outcome measure and the methods and strategies employed by evaluation researchers to provide information about the effectiveness of offender supervision and other interventions.

Section 1: Information Uses and Abuses
Section 2: Evidence and Evidence-Based
Section 3: Evidence Starts with Theory
Section 4: What Researchers Actually Do

Other Material

In 2016, the Science Advisory Board for the federal Office of Justice Programs within the U.S. Department of Justice developed a series of formal statements to guide DOJ’s investments in criminal justice research and evaluation. Representing a consensus view among the diverse membership of the board, the statements were later promulgated on the Justice Department’s website.

Advisory Statement Number 2 focused on the role of evidence in justice policy and practice, including:

The strength of evidence required to judge the value of programs and practices in the justice field is a question of balance. Judgments should be based on the best available evidence, but the strength of evidence required for any decision is gauged by the costs of error and the burden of increasing evidentiary quality. Decisions with little consequence require less accurate evidence and less exhaustive evidence. Highly consequential decisions require more evidence. Navigating the continuum of evidence-supported decision-making is complex and subjective. The available evidence for any policy, program, or practice is not the product of a straightforward and untrammeled search for effectiveness. It emerges from a contentious and inherently political process that governs social investment in research.”

Advisory Statement 1 clarified the important but limited role of randomized controlled trials in the development of effective policies and practices, including:

“Randomized controlled trials (RCT) generally provide the strongest or most defensible causal evidence for programs and practices, but it may not always be possible to implement successful RCT evaluations in the field. Many important questions in the field of justice are not answerable using RCT studies—either for practical, economic, political, or ethical reasons. Research questions that are very difficult or expensive to answer using experimental methods may merit the necessary investment if they have widespread or profound social consequences, just as research questions with only modest consequences still merit experimental investment if they can be answered easily and at little cost. Funding for RCT evaluations should be managed like an investment portfolio with resources concentrated on the most effective combinations of theoretical salience, research feasibility, and social benefit.”

Read all three Advisory Statements, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs Science Advisory Board, Research Methodology and Evidence Translation Subcommittee (2016).

Statement 1      Statement 2      Statement 3