Research and Retrenchment: Integrating Data and Evaluation into Today S Correctional Environment

Article excerpt

An irony of correctional management in this period of fiscal urgency is that as the need to perform most effectively is at its most important, it has become more difficult to dedicate resources to determining that effective actual practice. The question facing all corrections departments today is, "how can we best make evaluation of operations and programs a central component of all staff activities, not just depleted or even eliminated data and research units?"

Even before the recession, it was incumbent upon correctional agencies to ensure that all programs were evidence-based, employed best practices and had measurable deliverables and outcomes/Certainly no programs should be allowed to continue without assessments that would confirm their adherence to best practices or have the ability to guide them toward a goal of being evidence-based. This can also bring about cultural clashes wherein programs can become institutionalized or are created from political influence. Therefore, implementation should include awareness and planning to address cultural conflict and lack of acceptance. Data-driven decision-making and analysis based upon sound assessment and evaluation are essential when introducing and/or maintaining evidence-based programming (EBP). This is especially paramount when engaging outside stakeholders as powerfully presented in the book Trial and Error in Criminal Justice Reform by Greg Berman and Aubrey Fox. (1)

Having an adequate complement of an evaluation and analysis (E&A) unit is imperative in these recessional times as an agency must challenge and test all of its efficiencies, effectiveness and introductions of new programs and policies into the environment. The elimination of these types of units is the last thing correctional leadership should do, as no business moves forward without research, analysis and accurate data to drive decisionmaking and to measure deliverables and outcomes. However, experience has shown that research and data efforts cannot be force-fed well into departmental operations at any time, much less when fiscal stresses inundate a department. Instead, the E&A unit of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) has pursued four approaches to achieve not only use but also legitimacy and integration of its research and data functions--information dissemination, capacity development, staff training and user feedback. With these means, the unit has been able to demonstrate the utility of its products to the department's users and generate greater interest, cooperation and use.

The Structure of the Evaluation and Analysis Unit of ODOC

ODOC created its E&A unit in July 2006 specifically for the purposes described above. Its administrator and two statistical analysts hold advanced degrees in social sciences and have extensive statistical and evaluation training. The unit also contains a data management coordinator to delve into the department's operating system to develop the databases from offender and other records upon which to perform statistical analyses and evaluations. While its staff of four precludes having individual analysts assigned to individual departmental units, each staff person tends to specialize in particular areas, such as liaising with external researchers and contract consultants, reporting to external agencies and organizations, and responding to specific requests from units to which they are designated, such as female offender operations, mental health programs or probation and parole. The unit maintains close partnerships with state higher education institutions to produce analyses beyond the unit's time and capacity through data-sharing and opportunities for presentations, grant-writing and publications. (2) Among the subjects researched by university faculty and students are co-occurring disorders in female offenders, changes in recidivism before and after moves to evidence-based administrative supervision in probation and parole, and the likely needs of aging inmates. …