Defining EBDM

“Evidence-based decision making” (EBDM) is the practice of using research findings to inform or guide decisions across the justice system.

Some examples of EBDM include:

  • Law enforcement uses objective data to inform the cite/release decision.
  • Prosecutors, defenders, and judges use defendant risk information to determine if pretrial release supervision is appropriate and use offender need assessment data to establish post-conviction release conditions.
  • Jailers assign offenders to skill-building programs and community corrections officials assign offenders to supervision levels based upon risk and needs assessments.
  • County commissioners and executives fund programs that research demonstrates to be effective in reducing offender risk—and eliminate programs that research has proven to be ineffective.

In June 2008, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) awarded the Center for Effective Public Policy, in partnership with the Pretrial Justice Institute, the Justice Management Institute, and The Carey Group, a cooperative agreement to address "Evidence-Based Decision Making in Local Criminal Justice Systems."

The goal of this initiative is to build a systemwide framework (arrest through final disposition and discharge) that will result in more collaborative evidence-based decision making and practices in local criminal justice systems. This effort is grounded in two decades of research on the factors that contribute to criminal reoffending and the methods the justice system can employ to interrupt the cycle of reoffense.

The initiative seeks to equip criminal justice policymakers in local communities with the information, processes, and tools that will result in measurable reductions of pretrial misconduct, post-conviction reoffending, and other forms of community harm resulting from crime.


There are three phases of NIC’s Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM) initiative:

  • Phase I Framework Development: Project partners worked with NIC and a multidisciplinary advisory committee to develop the Framework, with the intent to define risk and harm reduction as fundamental goals of the justice system, summarize the strongest of the evidence-based research, and outline a structure and set of principles for achieving EBDM in local justice systems. Read more
  • Phase II Planning Process: The initiative competitively selected and worked with seven sites as they engaged in a planning process to prepare to implement their local interpretation of the Framework. Their implementation plans were submitted to NIC in June 2011. Read more
  • Phase III Implementation: Since August 2011, NIC has provided support to all seven sites in Phase III. Read more
  • Phase IV Expansion to Statewide Structure: In September 2013, NIC entered into a cooperative agreement with the Center for Effective Public Policy to expand EBDM to the state level. Work under this phase of the Initiative includes the provision of technical assistance and the development of tools and protocols to expand EBDM to additional local counties and to state level policy groups within those states with existing EBDM local sites. In support of this work, NIC and the Center partnered with officials in the State of Wisconsin to develop and pilot a statewide Summit on EBDM in January 2014. The purpose of the EBDM Summit was to pilot test the Initiative’s state-level protocols. Read more about the results of the Summit.

Click here to download a description of the EBDM Initiative and its Phases.

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