Effective Correctional Programs

Article excerpt

It has been more than two decades since New York sociologist Robert Martinson concluded, after his exhaustive study of correctional programs, that "nothing works." At the time, many corrections professionals were less than enthusiastic about his premise. Many more who had witnessed firsthand transformations of juvenile or adult offenders could not believe his study garnered so much support. Correctional directors responsible for securing funding for treatment and programming had to persuade funding sources that Martinson's negative perspective was not absolute. His theory had to be refuted. The problem of presenting contrary evidence was the absence of empirical data and published research.

Corrections always has struggled to stay ahead of the curve, particularly because there have been so few natural advocates outside the field. Out of sight, out of mind was the public's preference. Reacting to a crisis was much more common than having the opportunity to pro-actively implement creative, outcome-driven programs.

Securing adequate funding for correctional officers' salaries or the reduction of caseloads remains a priority to this day, as there still is such a long way to go. Obtaining funds for bricks and mortar traditionally has been easier than securing funds for prevention or treatment. After all, a building is tangible evidence of spent money, while programming is too abstract for the general public to appreciate.

In the past, programs for the most part were inconsistent and unsophisticated. Funds for research and evaluation were practically nonexistent and a luxury that correctional systems could ill afford. But that has changed and continues to change. With the crime rate's exponential increase that began in the mid-1980s, and the public's understandably palpable fear, corrections no longer is relegated to the back burner. Taxpayers rightfully began demanding a return for their dollars and an assurance that what they were paying for was working. Corrections professionals had become more sophisticated in their understanding of what worked and the need to document the efficacy of their work. Research and evaluation became an integral part of many correctional agencies.

We now know, based on published research, that certain types of programs work with certain types of offenders. There are longitudinal studies that prove that certain prevention programs work to keep youths out of trouble and that those programs have a sustainable effect. We have outcome measures that show that a reduction in recidivism with necessary support can sustain the treatment gains. One measure of a good program is whether it is replicable. What you will read in this issue are examples of replicable programs that are based on sound principles, common sense, what research has proved to be effective, and the collective wisdom and experience of many corrections professionals.

I was pleased to coordinate this issue because I believe unequivocally that we can and do make a difference in people's lives. …