Evidence Based Practices

If you are planning a reentry court, it will be important to become familiar with “Evidence Based Practices” (EBP).   The researchers tell us that the greater the risk of re-offending, the less the margin of error in dealing with high-risk offenders. The challenge for a reentry court then,  is to adopt proven empirical and research driven, “Evidence Based Practices”, designed to reduce recidivism. To do so, a reentry courts will need  qualified personnel, with open minds, and pioneering spirits. Perhaps we should start with a bit of history.

The Drug Court field’s Ten Key Components (NADCP/OJP; 1997) have been  around since 1997 and have stood the test of time. However, while still valuable as conceptual principles, they don’t provide much  guidance as to what specific features reduce drug usage and recidivism.They were developed by practitioners like myself (I was an ex-drug court judge and NADCP’s President at the time), who were confident that what we were doing was working, but not exactly why. When we came together in Washington D.C., it was clear that the  fast growing field needed standards and guidance. So we created a template that was broad and based on commonsense and experience. What we didn’t know was whether research and empirical evaluation would back us up. That the components have been implemented and adhered to by thousands of drug and problem-solving court practitioners in the intervening years is extraordinary in itself. But for all the success of the “Key Components”, they didn’t provide the guidance required, to know which features to build  into our programs to make them more effective.

Since then, the “Key Components” have been scientifically evaluated, substantiated  to a consierable extent, and evolved (in my way of thinking) into  what has become known as  “Evidence Based Practices”,  or  scientifically proven”Best Practices” (specific guidelines) for the Problem-Solving Field.

According to the Pew Center on the States, “Evidence Base Practices”,  mean “supervision policies, procedures, programs, and practices that scientific research demonstrate reduce recidivism among individuals on probation, parole, or post-release supervision” (Policy Framework to Strengthen Community Corrections; Pew Public Safety Performance Project; 1998). The Crime and Justice Institute and National Institute of Corrections have produced a major report, authored by Judge Roger Warren (ret.), President Emeritus of the National Center for State Courts,  entitled Evidence-Based Practices to Reduce Recidivism: Implications for State Judiciaries, written for  the Conference of Chief Justices, the Conference of State Court Administrators, and the National Center for State Courts. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals has also produced a monograph on the topic: “Quality Improvement for Drug Courts: Evidence Based Practices” (National Drug Court Institute Monograph #9; 2008)  The reentry court practitioner needs to become familiar with these, and other important works on EBP.

Even with all the scientific and institutional support for the implementation of EBP, the application of Evidence Based Practices to reentry court will be a hard sell. EBP often runs counter to  the practitioner’s conventional thinking on sentencing and rehabilitation practices. (ie. Best to play it safe and (1)provide services for worthy non-violent, non-serious offenders, (2)return parolees to prison for all but the most minor of violations, (3) one size fits all; use the same treatment modalties for all drug abusers).

And, of course, EPP not as simple and straight forward as the “key components”. But let’s remember that the “Key Components” are not the grail, but commonsense ideas about what worked for drug courts in 1997. EBP will require a willingness to learn new ways of doing our job. That means training and education. For some, it’s just too much work. But isn’t it worth the effort to create reentry courts (and other problem-solving courts), using scientifically proven guidelines or “Evidence Based Practices”  to accomplish what we started out to do in 1997;  reducing the scourge of drug abuse and criminallity in our communities.

[Dr. Douglas Marlowe, an authority on EBP and Problem-Solving Courts, along with other prominent authors, provides a comprehensive description of how EBP applies to drug offenders, in  the Chapman Symposium on EBP; see: Chapman Journal of Criminal Justice, volume 1, No.1, Spring 2009]

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