Following rising levels of incarceration in the United States, new methods to reduce recidivism within the justice system need to be developed by researchers and practitioners. When examining recidivism, the study of family relationships is often a key component in predicting repeat criminal behavior among formerly incarcerated individuals. Research suggests that strong family ties produce lasting impacts among this population and often deter future incidents of crime (Bales and Mears, 2008).
The study of family relationships on imprisoned men and women is centralized on the premise that strong family support will be beneficial in societal reintegration, while lack of family support puts these individuals at greater risk for criminal relapse. Families provide a support that formerly incarcerated individuals are unlikely to find through other means. In addition to financial support, strong family ties can encourage men as they reenter the workforce and can have a direct impact on their future behavior. As such, recognizing the importance of family among incarcerated people is important to the advancement of criminal justice policy and practice.
A substantial body of research extending from the 1970s until present suggests that discrimination based on racial cues remains a principal cause of the disproportionate number of minorities killed by police. Recent shootings of Black Americans have inflamed the debate over whether police officers’ racial biases affect how likely they are to use lethal force against Black suspects. Such debates tend to assume that police officers’ implicit bias associating Black people as a probable threat will increase the chances of an officer discharging his/her weapon against them.
The issue of what to do about the legality of drug manufacturing, trade, and use has been subjected to long-standing debate. During the 1900s, nations worldwide supported the idea of prohibition, or at least inhibition, of drugs (Bewley-Taylor, 2003; Brownstein, 2016; Inciardi, 2007; Musto, 1991, 1999; Room and Reuter, 2011). There was much discussion, however, about whether drugs should be viewed as a criminal issue or a medical issue. The United States, as well as many nations around the world, had settled on the criminalization of drugs.
On April 4, 2016, the heads of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Office of National Drug Control Policy wrote to Congress, calling for the rescheduling of marijuana down from a schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act, in order to provide greater availability for research (Brownstein, 2016). This has not occurred, and the DEA has maintained its long-standing stance that marijuana should be a schedule 1 substance. However, this debate continues as different organizations, like the American Legion veterans group, continues to push for the removal of marijuana from its schedule 1 classification (Ingraham, 2016). The issue of drug status regarding legality, availability, manufacturing, sales, and use continues to be a contested because there is much fear associated with the use of drugs. Fear of addiction and violence continue to drive the debate (Jacques et al., 2016; MacCoun and Reuter, 2001). Jacques, Rosenfield, Wright, and van Gemert (2016) utilize empirical research to shed some light on the issue from a safety point of view.
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.