The EBDM initiative was established to harness the knowledge from a growing body of evidence that can inform justice system agencies’ decisions, leading to improved performance and effectiveness. It was also designed to increase system collaboration around a common set of principles and expected outcomes.
The EBDM framework can be applied at the local level, state level, or both.
In 2008, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) launched the Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM) initiative. Its overarching goal was the creation and implementation of a framework designed to improve justice system outcomes through collaborative partnerships and a shared vision of desired outcomes. The initiative is grounded in more than two decades of research on the factors that contribute to criminal reoffending and the methods that justice systems can employ to interrupt the cycle of crime.
A Framework for Evidence-Based Decision Making in Local Criminal Justice Systems was developedduring Phase I of the initiative. In August 2010, NIC selected seven communities throughout the United States to pilot the Framework. NIC, in partnership with the Center for Effective Public Policy, provided guidance and technical assistance to these communities and, based upon their success, in 2015 expanded the initiative to 21 teams in three states, including three state-level policymaking teams.
What is EBDM?
EBDM is not a model that prescribes a particular set of justice system reforms. Instead, it is a strategic and deliberate method of applying empirical knowledge and research-supported principles to justice system decisions made at the case, agency, and system levels. Unlike other reform efforts, EBDM requires criminal justice officials to identify change targets of their choosing rather than advocating for particular justice system strategies.
EBDM is guided by the Framework which articulates the rationale for the EBDM approach to improving and advancing the justice system. The Framework is based on four central principles:
“Harm reduction,” as used here, refers to decreases in the ill effects of crime experienced broadly by communities, victims, citizens, justice-involved individuals, and their families.
- The professional judgment of criminal justice system decision makers is enhanced when informed by evidence-based knowledge.
- Every interaction within the criminal justice system offers an opportunity to contribute to harm reduction.
- Systems achieve better outcomes when they operate collaboratively.
- The criminal justice system will continually learn and improve when professionals make decisions based on the collection, analysis, and use of data and information.
HOW IS EBDM APPLIED?
The EBDM Framework posits that public safety outcomes will be improved when justice system stakeholders engage in truly collaborative partnerships, use research to guide their work across the justice system decision points, and work together to achieve safer communities, more efficient use of tax dollars, and fewer victims.
Genuine collaboration is a central focus of EBDM. “Collaboration” is the process of working together to achieve a common goal that is impossible to reach without the efforts of others. It seeks to overcome the limitations of traditional and nonsystemic approaches to justice system problem solving by bringing together stakeholders to share information, develop common goals, and jointly create policies to support those goals—and to do so for a sustained period of time. Criminal justice system “stakeholders” are defined as those who have a vested interest in justice system processes and outcomes; together they are referred to as “policy teams.”
Policy teams are comprised of the justice system agencies and community organizations that impact, or are impacted by, decisions that will be made by the collaborative team. Their specific composition varies depending upon the structure of each community but commonly include those with the positional power to create change within their own organizations. The chief judge, court administrator, elected prosecutor, chief public defender, private defense bar, community corrections director, police chief, elected sheriff, pretrial administrator, victim advocates, local elected officials (i.e., city manager, county commissioner), service providers, and community representatives are common policy team members of local teams. On state-level teams, the stakeholder composition is similar but includes those with positional influence across multiple communities (e.g., elected president of the state prosecutors’ or sheriffs’ association; executive director of the state’s association of counties), including agencies and individuals with statewide authority or influence (e.g., state legislature, statewide behavioral/mental health agency, department of corrections, attorney general, governor’s office, state courts). In addition, state-level teams include local team representatives in order to align state and local interests around justice system reforms. Together and separately, each brings valuable information, resources, and perspectives to the collaborative endeavor.
The core activities of EBDM are described through a set of “roadmaps.” The steps in the planning roadmap are as follows:
- Build a genuine, collaborative policy team.
- Build individual agencies that are collaborative and in a state of readiness for change.
- Understand current practice within each agency and across the system, including activities and outcomes at key decision points (e.g., arrest, pretrial release, diversion, plea negotiation, sentencing, community corrections, prison reentry).
- Understand and have the capacity to implement evidence-based practices.
- Develop logic models.
- Establish performance measures, determine outcomes, and develop a system scorecard.
- Engage and gain the support of a broader set of stakeholders and the community.
- Develop a strategic action plan for implementation.
The result of completing these steps is a clear, specific, and measurable plan for implementing the policy and practice changes that the policy team agrees will support the achievement of their justice system’s vision and goals under EBDM.
Following the planning stage is the implementation stage, during which additional core activities that support critical change strategies are carried out. These activities—described in the implementation roadmap—include the development of communication strategies, ongoing efforts to embed EBDM knowledge within justice agencies and to engage staff, and the measurement of data to track progress in meeting systemwide goals.
DISTINGUISHING EBDM FROM EBP (EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICES)
EBPs are policies, practices, and/or interventions supported by research. For example, research demonstrates that empirically based assessment tools predict risk better than professional judgment alone; research also demonstrates that outcomes are improved when intervention strategies are tailored to level of risk. An EBP, then, is using the results of an empirically based risk tool to help determine the appropriate amount of intervention.
EBDM is a comprehensive and disciplined approach to using data and research to inform and guide decision making across the justice system. By way of example, in applying EBDM to the diversion decision point, a policy team would consider the following questions: “What do we intend to achieve through diversion? What do we know from research about the most effective methods for achieving this goal? Based upon our intended outcomes and understanding of the research, who should be eligible for diversion, under what circumstances, and with what expectations?”
The connection between evidence-based practices and evidence-based decision making can be summarized as follows: an EBDM approach seeks to engage and organize the entire justice system in aligning policy and practice with research evidence (EBP) to reduce harm and improve systemwide outcomes.
PILOT TESTING THE FRAMEWORK
NIC provided technical assistance to guide the pilot sites through a series of steps in preparation for implementation. These steps, which were intended to set up processes and the infrastructure needed to successfully implement EBDM, are outlined in the Phase II roadmap.
In August 2010, NIC selected seven jurisdictions to serve as “EBDM pilot sites” as part of Phase II of the initiative. They included: Mesa County, Colorado; Grant County, Indiana; Ramsey County, Minnesota; Yamhill County, Oregon; City of Charlottesville/County of Albemarle, Virginia; Eau Claire County, Wisconsin; and Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.
With guidance from NIC, project partners, and an assigned technical assistance provider, the seven pilot sites followed the planning roadmap. They devoted the first full year of their EBDM work to building their collaborative teams, understanding current practice within each agency and across the system, learning about risk reduction principles and evidence-based practices and their application across the decision points, and developing strategic plans to address “change targets” for improving the alignment of research and practice. Their plans included logic models and performance measures, a systemwide “scorecard,” and a preliminary public communications strategy designed to gain the support of a broader set of justice system stakeholders and the local citizenry.
For the next two years, beginning in August 2011, NIC and its partners provided ongoing support to the EBDM pilot sites as they implemented their plans and collected and analyzed data to track progress in meeting their locally identified outcomes. Change strategies implemented in the pilot sites included, among others, employing and validating local pretrial risk assessment tools, implementing universal screening of pretrial defendants, adding or redesigning diversionary policies, and aligning interventions for individuals based on level of risk and needs.
This resource is intended to illustrate, through case studies, some of the significant accomplishments achieved by the seven EBDM pilot sites across the range of EBDM decision points. It is not intended to provide a comprehensive review of policy team goals, activities, or outcomes. Instead, it offers a retrospective account of select change targets and key efforts undertaken by each pilot site to achieve their goals during Phases II and III of the EBDM initiative, and reports on some of the outcomes achieved. (For more information on the range of change targets selected by each pilot site, the reader is encouraged to review each site’s specific logic models, scorecards, and action plans, which are located on the Phase II/III sites’ webpages.)