Friday, March 20, 2009

Reentry Evaluations

The first research job I had—in 1974—was with a federally funded research project evaluating community correctional programs, and it was there that I learned the value and necessity of proper third-party, control-group evaluation when dealing with criminal rehabilitation programs.

Unfortunately, it is still not the norm, but when it has been utilized, as with the Greenlight Project and the California In-Prison Substance Abuse Treatment program, the results have been a shock—in both cases showing that program participation actually increased recidivism, rather than the intended result of decreasing it.

Both of these efforts were reported on here.

So this call to mandate evaluation is welcome and we hope it continues.

“Prisoner re-entry programs getting government funding should be required to commission high-quality, independent scientific evaluations, says criminologist James Byrne of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Testifying last week before the U.S. House subcommittee that handles Justice Department appropriations, Byrne said the lack of good evaluations of such programs so far means that corrections advocates are unable to cite “best practices” to support their requests for more funds. Byrne testified during three days of hearings held by the panel on prison issues in anticipation of more federal funding available for re-entry in the next fiscal year under the new Second Chance Act.

“Byrne also said that re-entry programs that focus only on individual offenders may not produce significant reductions in recidivism “unless we also address the need to transform the “high risk” communities in which offenders reside. In a story published earlier this week on Connecticut recidivism study, Crime & Justice News reported an incorrect figure on recidivism rates associated with a state prisoner re-entry program. The recidivism of ex-inmates who completed the program within six months was 8 percent, compared with 34 percent for those who started but didn’t finish and 42 percent for nonparticipants.”