Large amounts of untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) have troubled jurisdictions across the country, and debates regarding processing untested SAKs have continued for decades. SAKs are containers of biological specimens and related physical evidence collected from sexual assault crimes for DNA profiling. After collection, SAKs usually are submitted to government forensic laboratories for extraction, quantification, amplification, separation, and interpretation. As soon as a DNA profile is identified, it may be eligible for uploading to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and compared to the Convicted Offender Index and the Forensic Index. The occurrence of DNA evidence backlog has directly led to thousands of SAKs being unexamined and untested nationwide.
Dennis Giever, PhD, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
In 2004, Connecticut became the first state to enact justice reinvestment legislation. At that time, Connecticut had seen a 7% increase in its prison population over the prior four years. As a result of this pilot effort, the state was able to cancel a contract to build a new prison, saving the state about $30 million. Connecticut was also able to return inmates housed out of state, due to overcrowding, while reducing the recidivism rate by two percentage points. The state then reinvested $14 million of that savings into community-based crime prevention programs. These programs include mental health and addiction services, neighborhood programs, and a retooling of probation and parole services, with a focus on reducing technical violations. One million dollars also was allocated for transitional housing for people released back into the communities of New Haven and Hartford. One major goal in Connecticut was to decrease the number of probation and parole violators who were reincarcerated. To accomplish this, the state reinvested monies to increase the number of probation and parole officers working with these individuals. Justice reinvestment is a data driven, evidence-based approach to improving public safety by examining criminal justice spending and reallocating savings in a more cost effective manner to help communities and reduce crime. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) provides technical assistance to states, localities and tribal communities. The JRI is a public-private partnership between the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Pew Charitable Trust.
Tammy Rinehart Kochel, PhD Southern Illinois University and Lt. Peter Morrow St. Louis County Police Department
An experiment in suburban crime hot spots in St Louis County, MO reveals that both problem solving and directed patrol strategies reduce crime above and beyond standard policing practices. However, the study, which focused on how different strategies affected opinions about police and neighborhoods, demonstrated that residents opinions about police were not negatively impacted in the long term and instead, residents believed their neighborhoods were better equipped to address violations of neighborhood behavioral norms. Lessons learned suggest that police might be most successful when they explain their strategies to residents prior to implementing them, and that spending more time in crime hot spots might embolden residents to begin to self police.
Daniel Lee, PhD Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Evidence-based programming has been stressed within many disciplines, but its importance seems to be critical when considering the use of public funds to develop, implement, and evaluate therapeutic programs administered within the criminal justice system. Rehabilitation and therapeutic programs administered by criminal justice agencies focus on outcomes that bring measureable improvements to offenders’ lives, limit recidivism, and increase public safety. Evidence of meeting these goals is encouraging and can be used to support the continued administration and replication of existing programs, but administrators of criminal justice agencies need to ensure that evidence-based programs are implemented accurately by attending to the issue of program fidelity.
David L. Myers, PhD Indiana University of Pennsylvania
During the past 10 to 15 years, increasing emphasis has been placed on the use of scientific research to guide the work of agencies and organizations focused on assisting clients with achieving behavioral change and success. Overall, this evidence based approach stresses collection and use of data to assess risk factors and needs; consideration of available scientific evidence on the effectiveness of existing policies, programs, and practices; implementation of strategies and methods that have the greatest research support; and ongoing data collection and analysis to monitor operations and evaluate outcomes (Aarons, Hurlburt, & Horwitz, 2011; Domurad & Carey, 2009; Guevara, LoefflerCobia, Rhyne, & Sachwald, 2010; Hovmand & Gillespie, 2008; Lipsey, Howell, Kelly, Chapman, & Carver, 2010; Myers, 2013; Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, 2014).
David L. Myers, PhD Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Reentry courts are specialized courts that seek to assess inmate risk and needs and assist parolees with successful reintegration into society, thereby reducing the likelihood of recidivism and improving public safety. A recently released study of the Harlem Parole Reentry Court evaluated the effectiveness of this approach, using a scientifically rigorous research design that included both quantitative and qualitative data and analysis. The findings reveal strong support for the use of both reentry courts and evidence-based programs and practices.
Clifton Chow, Ph.D., Consultant Anthony Petrosino, Ph.D., WestEd
The move towards evidence-based policy has focused on generating trustworthy evidence upon which to base decisions. For example, a critical component of the evidence-based policy movement has been the support for more rigorous primary studies with strong "internal validity" such as randomized experiments and well-controlled quasi-experiments. Another critical component has been the increased importance of transparent and explicit methods for synthesizing research such as systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
Matthew R. Hassett Indiana University of Pennsylvania
It can be argued that one of most pressing issues of the criminal justice system is that of recidivism. That is, not only is criminal offending a problem, but re-offending by the same individuals is a major issue. Historically, after the Nixon administration, crime began to be addressed with punitive policies, such as mandatory minimum sentences and three strikes laws (Cole & Gertz, 2013). In this era, politicians used crime as a political platform and the, “…tough on crime movement began because of a small upswing in crime that politicians used as a platform for debate over who could be more punitive” (Cole & Gertz, 2013, p. 4). However, some more recent policies are counter to those that encompass the “tough on crime” movement, such as the Second Chance Act. Specifically, the Second Chance Act focuses on providing programs with federal funding to help former inmates successfully reenter into society (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 2009). Policies like the Second Chance Act need to be embraced and “tough on crime” policies, such as three strikes laws, need to be changed or abandoned.
Juvenile curfew laws are utilized widely and supported throughout the United States, under the common sense notion that restricting the hours when young people are out in public should limit their opportunities to commit crimes or become victims of crime (McDowall, 2000). Curfews typically are directed at youth under the age of 18 (although this age sometimes is lowered), and common hours of enforcement are between 10:00 pm and 5:00 am (although these hours vary based on jurisdiction, days of the week, and/or holidays). Survey research indicates that about three-quarters of American cities have juvenile curfew laws in place, and a large majority of mayors, police, and the general public support curfews and believe them to be effective for public protection (Bannister, Carter, & Schafer, 2001; Good, 2006; Ruefle & Reynolds, 1995, 1996). Interestingly, the United States and Iceland appear to be the only two countries with general juvenile curfew laws that apply to all youth of certain ages within a given jurisdiction (Wilson, Gill, Olaghere, & McClure, 2016).
Dennis Giever, PhD Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Juvenile justice agencies striving to improve their programming face a number of challenges. The movement toward evidence-based practice is well established, but an agency attempting to adopt a proven set of approaches often is forced to address a number of conflicting issues. The overall goal typically is to establish an evidence-based program that will be effective within a particular jurisdiction. Issues arise, as there generally is not a “one size fits all” approach that can be adopted. Agencies face differing budgetary concerns and are often working with existing programs that either need to be modified or abolished. Such agencies face choices on which evidence-based practice or program will work best. Do they just adopt an existing established program? Can they utilize research to modify their existing practices to conform to established research on what works? Often communities have programs in place, but are moving towards evidence-based practices and are looking not to start over, but rather to modify their programs to bring them in line with practices that have been shown to be effective by research. Many of the established programs are very expensive to implement, and some jurisdictions might not have the resources to adopt these programs. Some may question whether relying on research undertaken in differing jurisdictions will be effective in their community.