Criminal Justice: What Works? What Doesn't?


New York City treatment courts, Hawaii's Project HOPE, and “parent-child interaction therapy” are among top-rated programs highlighted by a new online evaluation project of the federal Office of Justice Programs.

The U.S. Justice Department has a new website,, to help taxpayers judge the effectiveness of state and local anticrime programs.

The site, unveiled yesterday at the National Institute of Justice's annual crime research conference near Washington, D.C., was billed by federal officials as a “single, credible, online resource to inform practitioners and policymakers about what works in criminal justice, juvenile justice, and crime victim services.”

Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General for Justice Programs, started the project when she returned to government service in 2009. A team of experts from her office and the Maryland-based private firm Development Services Group (DSG) assembled the database by reviewing academic studies that have reviewed hundreds of anticrime programs under accepted scientific standards.

Each program was classified in one of three categories: effective, promising, or no effects.

Officials emphasized that the site is a work in progress, with new evaluations added almost daily. In the last week before the NIJ conference, the number listed jumped from 125 to 145.

The programs are divided into eight categories. As of yesterday, crime and crime prevention had the most evaluations (24) while drugs and substance abuse had the fewest (8) Other categories are corrections and prisoner reentry, courts, forensics and technology, juvenile justice, law enforcement, and victims and victimization.

Many programs didn't make the cut, either because they were judged ineffective or there wasn't enough evidence to make a judgment.

Phelan Wyrick, an assistant to Robinson, said good but unproved programs would not have to make the list to qualify for federal funding. “We must continue to support innovation,” he told the NIJ conference.

Some highlights of the initial site listings:

Corrections:. A training program for probation officers, Strategic Training Initiative in Community Supervision, was the only one judged effective. Fifteen were called promising, including a widely praised Hawaii program called HOPE that promotes swift sanctions for errant probationers. One program, Project Greenlight, was pronounced ineffective.

Courts. Six programs were listed as effective, including treatment courts in New York City's Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens boroughs. Ten programs were called promising.

Crime Prevention. Eleven programs were called effective. Although most categories stressed U.S. programs, a majority of the effective prevention projects were from the United Kingdom or Australia. Twelve programs were listed as promising.

Drugs. Only three were found effective, including a methadone maintenance program. Five made the promising category.

Victims. Only three were effective, including one called “parent-child interaction therapy.” Fifteen were called promising. Crime expert Carol Petrie of the DSG firm noted that most victims programs that could be evaluated were in the domestic violence or child abuse fields and that other crime-victim-aid programs should be studied.

Ted Gest is contributing editor of The Crime Report and president of Criminal Justice Journalists

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