New JRP Issue Focuses on Evidence-Based Policy and Practice

Roger Przybylski, President and Founder, RKC Group

JRSA Forum. September 2012. Volume 30, Number 3.

Justice Research and Policy (JRP), the peer-reviewed journal of the Justice Research and Statistics Association (JRSA), released a special issue in August that focuses on one of the most important topics in criminal and juvenile justice today: evidence-based policy and practice. The articles deal with a diverse range of subjects, but all were developed with a common goal in mind-helping criminal and juvenile justice professionals move policy and practice in a more evidence-based direction.

The publication of this special issue comes at a time when Statistical Analysis Centers (SACs), State Administrative Agencies (SAAs), and other organizations are getting more and more involved in evidence-based policymaking and program development. SACs have a long history of developing research-generated evidence and translating research findings into practical applications, but explicit efforts to support evidence-based policymaking and practice are now more common than ever before. SAAs are playing a more irect and active role in advancing evidence-based policy and practice too. In fact, it is not uncommon for SAAs to promote the use of evidence-based programs and practices with Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) or other SAA-administered funds.

Justice Research and Policy coverDespite its widespread impact, the evidence-based movement is still hampered by knowledge deficiencies and controversies. Effective interventions have not been identified for every crime problem confronting our communities, and misconceptions about what works are common. Moreover, many policymakers and practitioners remain unreceptive to the evidence-based movement, and scientific evidence is too often ignored or paid little more than lip service. Even some researchers remain reluctant to embrace the evidence-based movement unconditionally, citing concerns about narrow conceptions of credible evidence and evidence-based practice, as well as the marginalization of practitioners and programs that are a poor fit for experimental evaluation.

It is within this context-a widespread and accelerating demand for evidence and evidence-based applications, coupled with lingering problems and controversies to resolve-that this special issue was developed. It contains an introduction and five invited articles dealing with a diverse range of evidencebased issues. The introduction, which I authored in my role as guest editor, provides a brief commentary on the current state of the evidence-based movement, highlighting some of the key problems and controversies mentioned above.

The first article, "Research-Based Guidelines for Juvenile Justice Programs," was authored by James Howell and Mark Lipsey. The article describes three different ways evidence-based programs can be defined, with a focus on an approach that is not well known but extremely important, particularly for non-brand name programs and the jurisdictions in which they operate. The article also presents guidelines for maximizing the effectiveness of programs for juvenile offenders, and it describes a tool-the Standard Program Evaluation Protocol-that can be used to assess juvenile interventions and help them align more closely with evidence-based practice. Howell and Lipsey expand our understanding of what it means to be evidence-based, and also demonstrate that with the right approach, locally developed, non-brand name programs can be highly effective and evidence-based.

The second article, "Reexamining Evidence-Based Practice in Community Corrections: Beyond 'A Confined View' of What Works," was authored by Fergus McNeill, Steve Farrall, Claire Lightowler, and Shadd Maruna. McNeill and his colleagues challenge some of the underlying assumptions of the "what works" model in corrections, and they make the case for a more explicit integration of the evidence on desistance from crime into everyday probation and parole practice. Drawing on desistance research, the authors identify seven central themes for practice and discuss their application in community corrections. The article closes with a brief overview of the Discovering Desistance Project, a transatlantic knowledge exchange initiative designed to be a resource on desistance and how community corrections can support it.

The article is provocative in its commentary on the limitations of the risk-need-responsivity (RNR) model in corrections, as well as in its perspective on whose evidence and experience should help shape policy and practice. With regard to the latter, the authors provide insights for addressing concerns about the marginalization of practitioners that extend well beyond community corrections. The article also adds to the emerging body of evidence concerning the key role human relationships play in reducing recidivism and promoting desistance from crime.

The next article, "Receptivity to Research in Policing," authored by Cynthia Lum, Cody Telep, Christopher Koper, and Julie Grieco, deals with a chronic challenge for the evidence-based movement- the gap between research and practice. Lum and her colleagues review research on the factors that affect receptivity and use of research by practitioners, and present findings on the receptivity of police officers to research from their own survey of officers in the Sacramento, California, Police Department. They also discuss the complexity of evidence-based policing and, in the context of their survey and the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix (a research translation tool that reveals generalizations about effective policing strategies), what works in policing. The paper concludes with a series of examples illustrating how research might be integrated into police practices for the purpose of institutionalization.

The Lum et al. article highlights the value of sound research translation tools and the importance of researcher-practitioner partnerships for the adoption and institutionalization of evidence-based practice. Moreover, in tackling important questions about receptivity to and use of research by practitioners, Lum and her colleagues offer insights about breaking down barriers to research use that are relevant to a wide audience, not just readers interested in policing.

The next article, by Elizabeth Drake, is titled "Reducing Crime and Criminal Justice Costs: Washington State's Evolving Research Approach." It describes how meta-analysis and costbenefit analysis are used by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to identify evidence-based programs, and presents an overview of how research is applied in a public policy setting. The article highlights the importance of economic evaluation in identifying evidencebased programs, and demonstrates that evidence-based reforms take considerable time to implement.

Finally, "Applying Developmental Criminology to Law: Reconsidering Juvenile Sex Offenses," authored by Patrick Tolan, Tammi Walker and N. Dickon Reppucci, employs a legal and developmental psychology framework to examine the fairness and effectiveness of the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) as it applies to adolescents. Drawing on advances from both developmental criminology and brain science, the authors find a significant mismatch between prevailing registration and community notification laws for juveniles and the evidence on adoles cent development. They offer recommendations for grounding juvenile sex offender laws in a developmental understanding of adolescent behavior, thereby making them more evidence-based.

The Tolan et al. article is timely given the registration and notification requirements for juveniles SORNA recently placed on states, territories, the District of Columbia, and federally recognized Indian tribes that elect to function as registration jurisdictions. The evidence regarding adolescent development from neuroscience and developmental criminology, however, has policy implications that extend far beyond the issue of juvenile sex offenders.

As guest editor, I am pleased that all of the articles included in this issue have a practical orientation. Each presents research findings, recommendations, or other forms of guidance that can be used to craft more evidence-based policies or practices in a particular crime control domain. But I am also pleased that the articles also address one or more of the theoretical foundations that define, or conceptual issues that affect, contemporary evidence-based practice. These include how we define evidence-based programs and practices, what type of evidence matters, and whose evidence matters. Hence, it is my hope that this issue will not only provide readers with information that is useful for everyday practice, but that it also will stimulate new ways of thinking about the production and application of evidence, and, more broadly, what it means to be evidencebased. JRP's Special Issue on Evidence-Based Policy and Practice is available at the journal's Web site. For questions about the issue or about Justice Research and Policy in general, contact Nancy Michel, JRP Managing Editor, at nmichel@jrsa.org.