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Evidence-Based Practice to Reduce Recidivism: Implications for State Judiciaries

NCJ Number
Roger K. Warren
Date Published
August 2007
89 pages
This paper discusses the application of principles of evidence-based practice (research that has established what does and does not work in reducing offender's criminal behavior) to State sentencing policy and practice from the perspective of State court judges, who sentence 94 percent of the Nation's felony offenders.
In reviewing the body of research on "what works" in reducing recidivism, this paper identifies key principles that underlie successful recidivism-reduction programs. The first three principles identify the types of offenders to target for treatment (moderate-risk to high-risk offenders); what to target (needs directly linked to specific criminal behaviors); and how to treat them (cognitive behavioral techniques, positive reinforcements, and appropriate adverse consequences for failure). The latter techniques and conditions for treatment must be tailored to the offender's gender, culture, learning style, and motivation for change. Further, the treatment must have continuity that includes aftercare, ongoing support, and the monitoring and evaluation of program operations and offender outcomes. A fourth principle of evidence-based practice (EBP) recognizes the importance of using an actuarial risk/needs-assessment tool in determining an offender's level of risk and criminogenic needs. The fifth and sixth principles of EBP focus on offender motivation and the integration of treatment and sanctions. EBP indicates that State sentencing policies focused on controlling crime solely by punishing the offender's past criminal behavior are shortsighted and ignore overwhelming evidence that punishment in itself does not change criminal behavior and may increase it. Evidence-based sentencing practices should tailor sentences to create for each offender the environment and correctional treatment regimen most likely to reduce his/her criminal behavior and promote responsible, law-abiding behavior that serves public safety. This can only happen as judges keep up-to-date on state-of-the art evidence-based practices that achieve these goals. 240 notes