Evidence-Based Practice

Perhaps the most important reform in state sentencing and corrections practice taking place today is the incorporation of principles of evidence-based practice into state sentencing and corrections policy and practice.

The term evidence-based practice (EBP) was used initially in relation to medicine, but has since been adopted by many fields including education, child welfare, mental health, and criminal justice.

EBP refers to approaches and interventions that have been scientifically tested in controlled studies and proven effective. EBP implies that there is a definable outcome(s); it is measurable; and it is defined according to practical realities (recidivism, victim satisfaction, etc.).

Interventions within corrections are considered effective when they reduce offender risk and subsequent recidivism. (Note - recidivism can be defined in many ways, i.e., re-arrest, re-conviction, parole revocation, return to incarceration, return to prison.) When offender risk is reduced, there are fewer victims of crime and public safety is enhanced.

Listed below are the commonly used Evidence-Based Principles for Community Corrections:

  1. Assess Actuarial Risk/Needs.
  2. Enhance Intrinsic Motivation.
  3. Target Interventions.
    1. Risk Principle: Prioritize supervision and treatment resources for higher risk offenders.
    2. Need Principle: Target interventions to criminogenic needs.
    3. Responsivity Principle: Be responsive to temperament, learning style, motivation, culture, and gender when assigning programs.
    4. Dosage: Structure 40-70% of high-risk offenders' time for 3-9 months.
    5. Treatment: Integrate treatment into the full sentence/sanction requirements.
  4. Skill Train with Directed Practice (use Cognitive Behavioral treatment methods).
  5. Increase Positive Reinforcement.
  6. Engage Ongoing Support in Natural Communities.
  7. Measure Relevant Processes/Practices.
  8. Provide Measurement Feedback.

Risk/Needs Assessment
Actuarial risk assessment instruments have been shown to be more accurate than even the best clinical judgment in determining offender risk. Unfortunately, only a few state judges and courts in the United States have experience in using risk/needs assessment information in sentencing offenders or responding to violations of parole.

Use of risk and needs assessment information is critical in making evidence- based judicial determinations of important recurring sentencing issues, such as:

  • Offender's suitability for diversion;
  • Most appropriate conditions of probation to be imposed;
  • Offender's amenability to treatment;
  • Most appropriate treatment or level of supervision to be imposed;
  • Most appropriate sanction or behavioral control mechanism to be imposed;
  • Kind of sanction, incentive or additional service to be ordered upon a violation of probation; and
  • Whether or when to revoke probation.

In the recent Indiana Supreme Court decision in the case of Malenchik v. State of Indiana, the court observed that "the concept of evidence-based sentencing practices has considerable promise for the goal of reduced offender recidivism and improvement of sentencing outcomes."

For more information about Evidence-Based Practice:

Risk-Needs Assessment 101: Science Reveals New Tools to Manage Offenders
Pew Center on the States, September 20, 2011.
Summarizes key information about these powerful tools and explains how they can help classify offenders and target interventions to most effectively reduce recidivism, improve public safety and cut costs.

Evidence-Based Practices-Reducing Recidivism to Increase Public Safety: A Cooperative Effort by Courts and Probation
Hon. J. Richard Couzens, Placer County Superior Court (Ret.), June, 2011

Evidence-Based Sentencing to Improve Public Safety and Reduce Recidivism: A Model Curriculum for Judges
National Center for State Courts

Evidence-based Correctional Practices
The National Institute of Corrections, 2007

Evidence-Based Practice to Reduce Recidivism: Implications for State Judiciaries
Roger K. Warren, (2007).

Practitioner's Guide to Evidence Based Practices
Mark Carey & Roger K. Warren, (2006)

Implementing Evidence-Based Practice in Community Corrections: The Principles of Effective Intervention
The National Institute of Corrections

Center for Evidence-Based Corrections
University of California, Irvine

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