Summary: Evidence Based practices April 2014 by Justice Research and Statics Association (JRSA), Bureau of Justice Assistance, US Dept. of Justice (BJA) and National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA)

The briefing was prepared by Stan Orchowsky, PhD. Research Director for the Justice Research and Statistics Association and several of his associates.

Note to the reader: This summary is intended to assist our activist groups to become familiar with current literature in our efforts to inform policy and assist in the creation of smarter legislation.  If there are errors or questions about any of the statements, do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected].  Anything in italics is solely my own thoughts or reflections as I studied this paper. Such comments are to be taken only in that context.)

Thank you, Barbara

(Member of Florida Action Committee, (FAC), National Reform Sex Offender Laws (RSOL) Women against the Registry (WAR) and Caution Click National Campaign for Reform (CCNCR)



The purpose of this work is to provide policymakers with an introduction and overview of the key concepts and issues associated with the identification of Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs) in criminal justice. The briefing discusses a history of the evidence based movement, what is meant by efficiency and its sources, issues associated with implementing EBPs, and address the question of what to do when there is no evidence for a particular program or practice.

It is noted that the findings in this research project, opinions, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibitions are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

Key information and/or thoughts

Background of EBPs

In a historical perspective, evidence-based practice has its origins in the field of medicine. The passage of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act in 1938 requires scientific investigation of new drugs prior to any marketing.  Added amendments over the years have extended the use of evidence based practices in health services rather than reliance on anecdotes, opinion or tradition.

As for EBPs in Criminal Justice, a 1974 publication by Robert Martinson, in what is now an infamous synthesis of research in corrections, led to the conclusion that “nothing works’ in the field of offender rehabilitation. Numerous reviews in the 1980s rebutted Martinson’s work along with research into the effectiveness of alternative ways of preventing crime.

Continual work in the 1980s and 90s by the criminal justice researchers realized the need to systematically identify specific programs that were shown to be effective. In the mid-90s congress and the senate each supported efforts to provide funds for scientific study in the prevention of crimes.  As the internet became increasingly prevalent, online resources also were made available.

We are reminded by this article that evidence comes from the actual information about the effectiveness of a program, usually from high quality outcome evaluations through the use of scientifically approved methods.

Effectiveness is determined in several ways: crime reduction, reduced recidivism, and reduced victimization.  (For our work as being active in reform, these can be three primary ‘legs’ on which to base our work.)

The author stated too, that reduction of recidivism is the ‘bottom line.”

Scientific Methods are defined by three things:

Objective—observable by others, based on facts rather that thoughts or opinions, free from bias or prejudice brought on by personal feelings.  Note that the primary bases for most laws affecting sex offenses are NOT objective!

Replicable: It can be observed by others using the same methods used to produce the original evidence.

Generalizable: it can be applied to individuals and groups other than those involved in the original study or group that produced certain evidence.

The article provided detailed explanation of the research design.  For the purpose of this summary, the above three definitions are sufficient.

While information can be collected in an evaluation such as opinions of probation officers on certain programs, this is actually NOT evidence of program effectiveness.

The quantity of evidence can impact the outcomes. (For example a study of only 50 persons as opposed to a Meta-Analysis where multiple studies are given a systematic review by subject matter experts, will result in a more accurate conclusion about the effectiveness of an intervention. So the bottom line is evidence derived from multiple studies should be more heavily weighed than evidence derived from a single evaluation.

Web site Resources

There were numerous web sites provided in this article for further resources. Two are noted below.

Crime ( provides information on 270 programs in a number of areas of criminal justice including corrections, courts, crime and crime prevention, drugs and substance abuse, juveniles, law enforcement, technology, forensics, and victims and victimization. Programs are rated as effective, promising, or no evidence. Each program can be based on one or more studies; the number of studies are indicated in the rating.  Ratings are assigned by program experts using a standardized protocol known as the program evidence rating instrument.

The use of programs that have shown to be effective and fit a community’s need has the potential of saving valuable time and resources compared to implementing untested programs that may or may not work.

The works in reentry Clearinghouse (

Is funded by the BJA and established by the Council of State Governments in 2012 and is specifically designed to provide information on evidence-based reentry interventions.  The site contains information on 56 initiatives in the focus areas of brand name programs, employment, family-based programs, housing, mental health, and substance abuse.


Users of any site investigating and making decisions about programs should review information carefully to determine what criteria and procedures are used to identify EBPs.

Implementation of EBPs

It requires careful planning and attention to details to successfully implement such a program.  Often information in Journals do not make available details so the actual research is preferable for referencing.  A program needs to be adopted to fit a particular set of circumstances therefore a program should be adopted with fidelity. This again can only be accomplished through careful attention to detail. The National Implementation Research network (NIRN) (  provides a wealth of information on implementation.

While the identification of some programs have not yet been subjected to rigorous evaluation, the basic answer is to adopt programs and policies based on, to the best extent possible, theories and concepts that are supported by research. For example a core component of an EBP is that high risk offenders should receive more services that low risk offenders and this should increase the expectation of success.


In summary there are many resources that can provide funds and program managers with detailed information in EBPs in almost all areas of criminal justice.  The challenge now is to get such programs adopted.  According to the authors of this article: “We have reached a point in time where policy makers are demanding that programs and initiatives be supported by solid empirical evidence.  With diminishing resources available, understanding how to identify and implement EBPs will be critical for decision makers in tha lareas of the justice system.”

Note from summary writer- In our work to reach legislators and the public, it is critical to become familiar with the EBPs that support our goals ;and then make every effort possible to educate our law makers.  Unfortunately, most are NOT really interested in EBPs; rather emotions and sensational cases, and pubic opinion, or what is perceived to be public opinion, drives most legislation. This remains one of our most difficult challenges!

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