Government programs to fight crime and drug abuse should be based on scientific knowledge of what approaches work, advocates urged yesterday at a forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the U.S. Justice Department. Some 40 percent of federally supported programs on various subjects across the board have not demonstrated their effectiveness, said Clay Johnson III, deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Johnson, who called the figure “totally unacceptable,” admitted that programs involving crime prevention and substance abuse may be hard to measure, but “shame on us” if we don’t try. OMB says that federally supported programs must be backed by the highest standard of scientific evidence. Yesterday’s program was put on by the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, sponsored by the Council for Excellence in Government.
The Justice Department presented speakers from three programs that have been found by rigorous scientific studies to work. A nurse visitation program for low-income women during pregnancy and children’s infancy has contributed to a 54 percent drop in arrests among adolescents involved. The program, tested in Elmira. N.Y., Memphis, and Denver, operates in 250 counties. Teaching life skills to middle school students has reduced substance abuse at least by 50 percent. A program to improve training for foster parents has resulted in a “significant reduction in criminal behavior” of foster children, said Peter Sprengelmeyer of the Oregon Social Learning Center. He said that many of the “usual practices” in juvenile justice like having them live in group homes “may be making kids worse.”