John Wetzel, who was appointed secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDC) under two different governors in 20 11 and 2015, discusses the primary role of research as the basis for correctional policy development and reform.
The PDC began a long-term partnership with New York University's BetaGov, which supports practitioner-led research in the public sector. With BetaGov, the PDC completed and published just over 36 trials, with hundreds more studies still in progress. Wetzel argues that the only way to improve outcomes in corrections is to try something, measure it, and scale it if evaluation shows that it is promising. If a policy or practice is not effective based on performance data, reasons for its ineffectiveness must be identified, adjusted, and then re-measured for the effectiveness of outcomes. The PDC's use of such a procedure is described for its efforts to prevent drugs from coming into its correctional facilities, to determine whether aromatherapy reduces violent incidents in prison, as well as to assess the impact of providing more colorful bed linens for inmates. Especially good outcomes have resulted from trials in which inmates have been given additional choices. A standard practice is to develop a mechanism for consistently receiving input from line staff that is meaningful and measurable. PDC's research partnership with BetaGov has taught the PDC the importance of making data collection and analysis the basis for ongoing analysis of policies and practices to determine their cost-effectiveness.