Peter P. Leijins Award Winner: Guidelines for Success

Article excerpt

"When you first meet Jim Beck, you don't think he'll be any burning ball of fire," says Helen Corrothers, who worked with Beck on the U.S. Parole Commission in the early to mid-'70s. "He seems like a quiet and unassuming person. But, when you get to know him, you realize that you were sadly mistaken."

Corrothers calls Beck "intensely curious about exploring issues that have the potential for improving corrections."

"He's a professional with a tremendous work ethic," she says. "He isn't intimidated in exploring what has never been done."

Beck's work ethic is apparent in the impressive list of achievements he's stacked up throughout his 25-year corrections career. He's been involved in several projects that have revolutionized American criminal justice. Among these, Beck says his favorite is the development of the first probation and parole guidelines.

In 1972, Beck landed a job with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in a low-level position coding files for the guidelines. A graduate student majoring in social psychology, Beck says his interest in criminal justice deepened as he became more involved in the technical aspects of the project. He realized that he enjoys criminal justice research because he knows his work produces concrete results.

"Some research, like psychology and sociology, is all theoretical and not very practical," he says. "It was very satisfying to see a project I worked on come to fruition and have an impact on the way the criminal justice system operates."

Before the guidelines were developed, Beck says no one knew how parole was settled. Each case was decided based on its own merits, and there were no objective standards for determining why decisions were reached. …