Higher Education Partnerships and Evidence-Based Practice in Corrections

By Jones, Justin; Connelly, Michael | Corrections Today, December 2010 | Go to article overview
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Higher Education Partnerships and Evidence-Based Practice in Corrections


Jones, Justin, Connelly, Michael, Corrections Today


Evidenced-based practice (EBP) becomes even more paramount to quality-driven correctional agencies during recessionary times when operating with severe budget reductions appears to be almost unattainable. Dividends for operating only EBP programs will increase during budget- and resource-driven eras. Certainly if agencies are hanging on to nonevidence-based operations and programs, the recession will forcibly annul these relationships. Even though external collaborators that work with correctional agencies also have to make difficult decisions to reduce and/or eliminate services, the focus must remain on what corrections can do to maintain EBP momentum. Therefore, one must extend into areas not normally thought of as falling into this category or have been restricted to community corrections. This includes using incentives and rewards for positive inmate behavior, responding quickly to infractions and focusing on an array of other practices and operational aspects of institutional corrections. The key to this type of EBP expansion is to actually know what works and to have the willingness to take the risks necessary to create new validations from pilot programs and other noteworthy experimentation. This is where partnerships in research and training, as well as sharing staff expertise with the world of higher education become invaluable.

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Past Higher Education/Corrections Partnerships

While not unheard of, most higher education/ corrections partnerships are not widely reported, and few have been developed specifically to counter difficult fiscal times. For example, probably the most familiar type of partnership has involved universities assisting with planning and delivery of educational programs in correctional facilities, from basic literacy to higher education, both on-site and through distance learning. (1) Less traditional educational and training programs have seen implementation through these partnerships as well, including the University of Montana's support of the Montana State Prisons Wellness Program (2) and Emory University's work on HIV/AIDS prevention with the South African Department of Correctional Services. (3) However, several partnerships have gone beyond education and successfully linked university resources to necessary program evaluation within correctional departments. Temple University assisted the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) through a full-scale process and outcome assessments of drug treatment in state facilities, (4) and the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research at the University of Kentucky essentially did the same for the state's Criminal Justice Kentucky Treatment Outcome Study and the Criminal Justice Drug Abuse Treatment Study. (5) Correctional departments have also used higher education partnerships to develop community service projects such as mentoring juvenile parolees. (6)

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These efforts, however, while useful precedents, have not often directly addressed the possible partnerships of correctional departments with higher education to meet the difficult financial situations in which most departments and universities currently find themselves. EBP in corrections has become important in Oklahoma as well as nationally--especially during the current fiscal difficulties. The state DOC has found maintaining EBP efforts with diminished staffing a potentially insurmountable problem without creative partnerships with state institutions of higher education. However, linking with university courses and programs, faculty, and students has provided new resources for both the department and the schools as they pursue their given missions. What are some of the mutual efforts and benefits that can be obtained through these partnerships? The experience of the Oklahoma DOC in the last four years offers ideas and suggestions for possible areas of cooperation.

Teaching and planning corrections-oriented courses and programs.

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