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Crime and Justice Archive

How government can (finally) start paying for success

Author: John Roman and Kelly Walsh

| Posted: June 11th, 2014

Government doesn’t always work as well as it should, but there are solutions. Today we released new research on the five steps to implementing a pay for success (PFS) project. This is a new concept that can break through traditional barriers to government efficiency to help deliver social programs that produce a public good, government savings, and private profit.

Injecting private capital into the public sector addresses the problem of widespread underfunding of public sector interventions and innovations. PFS, social impact bonds (SIBs), and scaled finance are all similar models that share a core concept: using private capital to buy outcomes, while promising a profit if the program is successful.

Today, government pays for programs regardless of whether they work, and bears all of the risk of that investment. PFS transfers risk from the government to the private sector– philanthropy, venture capital, or commercial banks. In a PFS deal, government only pays if the program achieves predetermined outcomes.

PFS is a special solution for special problems. This is not a tool for pet projects. It’s best suited for programs with a track record of actual success and programs that serve people who use large amounts of public resources and touch multiple systems, like family-based therapies that are designed to work with the most at-risk adolescents and which have the strongest evidence-base.

Here’s how it works. Each deal requires a collaborative effort: private investors, such as commercial banks, high-net-worth investors, and philanthropists, supply capital; nonprofit service providers supply evidence-based programs; a “knowledge intermediary” interprets the evidence for government and investors; an independent researcher evaluates program outcomes; and the government agrees to repay the investor, plus a profit if the program meets its objectives. If the program does not achieve performance goals, the investors lose all or some of their investment and any potential return.

Governments begin the process by contracting with a knowledge intermediary that manages the process and identifies costly, recurrent social problems and the evidence-based programs to solve them. A financial intermediary negotiates with investors and the government, and the intermediaries ensure that service delivery adheres to an evidence-based model.

The evidence is the key to these deals. If the PFS-funded program has a limited evidence base, the risk of failure may kill the deal before it starts. Investors won’t invest if the likelihood of success is uncertain, and governments won’t commit to paying a profit on programs that aren’t grounded in evidence.

PFS is potentially transformative. It funds solutions to problems that are too big for current funding mechanisms, and shifts risk from the government to the private sector, allowing government to innovate in ways it cannot today. Most importantly, a PFS deal demands data. In order to entice investors, the transaction requires that data is acquired and shared, that target performance metrics are realistic (for investors) and aspirational (for government), and that all costs and benefits are specified. In order for the deal to be properly priced, prior research must be carefully analyzed to provide transparency to all parties, and that data and knowledge must be shared across sectors. No other public financing mechanism places these requirements on government, which is why government is so inefficient today.

PFS is being tested. The challenge for the first generation of PFS and SIBs has been to prove the concept and to demonstrate that a PFS transaction can work. The challenge for the next generation is to jump from funding a single program to funding a portfolio of evidence-based programs. Just as there is no one cause of our most pressing social needs, there is no one solution. The PFS deals and SIBs of the future should support a multifaceted solution to these complex and expensive problems.

Stopping problems before they start sounds like common sense, but efforts to fund preventative programs are stymied by the nine barriers outlined in yesterday’s post. PFS financing may break those barriers and offer a new route to positive social change.

Filed under: Adolescents and Youth, Aging, Courts and sentencing, Crime and Justice, Finance, Performance Management and Measurement |Tags: , , , , ,

Nine reasons why government doesn’t work

Author: John Roman

| Posted: June 10th, 2014




State, county, and municipal governments are mainly in the business of buying services for their constituents, paying providers to tackle a broad spectrum of social problems: health, education, employment, and justice, among others. But these governments face significant barriers to reducing costs and delivering high-quality services.


  1. Know what they spend, but not what they buy. Governments keep track of their spending, but have few, if any, quality controls to monitor what they’re really buying. Governments have limited knowledge of what services are actually being provided and of the quality of those services.
  2. Prefer small, short-term benefits to larger long-term benefits. Rather than developing and implementing long-term solutions, governments overwhelmingly focus on fixing short-term problems. The emphasis is placed on fixing preventable problems, rather than preventing those problems in the first place. For instance, instead of funding obesity prevention efforts, we pay enormous sums to remediate diabetes. Why? Because the people in power won’t be around when savings from prevention occur.
  1. Apply well-intentioned, intuitive programs with no evidence-base. The research literature is littered with evaluations of programs that sound promising, but don’t work. Take D.A.R.E., for instance. Dozens of studies have shown that the program may be counterproductive, and may actually increase youth drug experimentation by exposing and demystifying drugs for kids who have not yet encountered them.
  2. Are underfunded to the point that effective programs are not scalable. For more than two decades, research has shown that drug-involved offenders receiving drug treatment in the community go on to commit significantly fewer crimes than drug-involved offenders who are incarcerated. Yet recent studies show that less than four percent of drug-involved offenders receive court-monitored treatment. The problem? Drug treatment is more expensive than criminal case processing and the resources to expand simply aren’t there.
  3. Are risk-averse. Governments rarely fund programs that have excellent average effects, but occasional unintended consequences. While drug courts overall lead to less crime, it is inevitable that some drug-involved offenders treated in the community will commit crimes that incarceration would have prevented. While the overall effect is more public safety, the fear of the less-dangerous side effects, like an occasional preventable crime, almost always wins out.
  4. Aren’t designed for innovation. Not only are there substantial cultural barriers to new ideas in government, but the entire procurement and purchasing process makes innovation almost impossible. Nonprofits and commercial vendors cannot bring good ideas to government; government must solicit innovation (and therefore must come up with the innovative ideas for potential service providers to respond to). This reduces conflicts of interests and under-the-table deals, but stifles innovation.
  5. Have a “wrong-pockets” problem. Government budgets are split into department budgets, and split again into agency budgets. So if one agency or department has a winning idea that reduces overall costs to government, that idea will only go forward if that agency is the one that keeps the savings. If those who benefit from savings from successful evidence-based programs do not include the agency covering the bill, that agency or department is unlikely to pursue the idea.
  6. Don’t share data and knowledge. Not only are budgets rigidly separated, but knowledge and data are as well. Each department tends to be isolated from the rest of government, particularly with respect to information sharing and knowledge transfer. For most governments, data systems not only can’t communicate, but are often prohibited from doing so. If a child is in special education and involved in the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system, most places don’t allow those agencies to share case information, much less encourage them to do so. Thus, the response is inefficient—and the conflicting solutions can make problems worse.
  7. Don’t communicate across borders. If the issues with communication and cost-sharing within governments are serious, the issues with sharing across governments are much more severe. Problems cross borders. Homelessness, gang disputes, pollution, poverty, etc. are not confined to particular geographies and the solutions shouldn’t be, either. But intergovernmental cooperation is often almost impossible.

The result is an inefficient system that at best can be made more efficient, and at worst can do more harm than good.

There is a solution, however—one that addresses all of these problems. I will discuss that tomorrow.

City Hall image from Shutterstock. Follow John on Twitter.

Filed under: Children, Crime and Justice, Economic Growth and Productivity, Geographies, Health and Health Policy, Local, Metro |Tags: , , , , ,

The barriers American Indian women face in accessing sexual assault exams and services

Author: Darakshan Raja

| Posted: May 30th, 2014


Native American Doctors

Among American women of all races, American Indian women report the highest rates of sexual violence. According to the Department of Justice, one in three are raped during their lifetime—more than double the rate of American women across all racial groups.

Although a significant number of American Indian women have experienced sexual assault, American Indian victims face a number of unique challenges after the sexual assault has taken place. These go beyond who pays for the sexual assault medical forensic exam, and include accessing the exam, acquiring medical services, and receiving an adequate response from the criminal justice system.

Here’s what our research revealed:

  • Tribal jurisdictions don’t have access to trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs).  For American Indian women, getting access to critical 24-hour emergency services, health clinics, and trained SANEs can be difficult. In one state, we visited multiple tribal reservations and found that only one reservation had a SANE. Even when cases were forwarded to Indian Health Services, facilities lacked these practitioners. As a consequence, victims had to travel off the reservation in order to receive an exam, which presents additional challenges. Victims may not have access to transportation, or familiarity with—or trust in—the local non-Native community. They may not even be aware that free exams and victim services are available to them.
  • Some American Indian victims don’t seek services due to past experiences with racism. All of the direct services providers we spoke with that worked with Native American communities reported witnessing racism from other providers when working with American Indian victims. They described a 911 call that went unanswered by the local counties that had jurisdiction over the tribe, a SANE who told a woman who came to the hospital that it wasn’t a “pill shop,” and several examples of law enforcement agencies’ differential treatment of American Indian victims. Service providers reported that victims are rarely believed by law enforcement agencies, and cases are rarely prosecuted. These experiences make some victims reluctant to seek services, the exam, or assistance from law enforcement.
  • Cultural barriers prevent some victims from seeking services and using the justice system.  Due to cultural norms, the shame and stigma surrounding sexual assault are more prevalent in American Indian communities. These factors, coupled with the fear of retaliation, which can even include excommunication from the tribe, prevent some sexual assault victims from making a report. When the perpetrator and victim belong to the same Native community, there is sometimes a lack of support for victims.  
  • American Indian communities may distrust justice and service systems due to historical trauma and mistreatment. Service providers in these communities said that the historical mistreatment of American Indians is responsible for much of the inherent distrust that victims have of the system. This sad history includes the atrocious nonconsensual sterilization of American Indian women by Indian Health Services from 1970-76, during which an estimated 25 to 50 percent of Native American women were sterilized. This is underscored by current practices that often make victims feel like second-class citizens.

All of these barriers can prevent American Indian victims from accessing important services and using the criminal justice system to hold perpetrators accountable. That’s why it’s critical to make trained examiners and suitable facilities available for victims in tribal and rural jurisdictions, and to train first responders on how to provide culturally competent social services to American Indian communities.

Tuba City, Ariz., in the Navajo Nation, is home to the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corp. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Filed under: Crime and Justice, Forensic science, Health and Health Policy, Health care spending, access, and utilization of care, Race, Ethnicity, and Gender, Racial and ethnic disparities, Victims of crime

Reducing correctional control in America

Author: Brian Elderbroom

| Posted: May 27th, 2014




Much attention has been paid to the issue of mass incarceration in recent weeks, and deservedly so. More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in American prisons and jails at an enormous cost – both human and financial – and diminishing public safety benefit.

Over the weekend, the New York Times joined the chorus calling for an end to mass incarceration and the policies that have contributed to it. Citing recent reports from the National Academy of Sciences and the Hamilton Project, the editorial board declared our four-decades-long experiment with ever-increasing punishment a “moral, legal, social, and economic disaster.”

But as the board points out—comparing the “overwhelming evidence” on mass incarceration with the science on global warming—it is no longer news that the United States locks up too many people. Far less established is how to go about reducing the prison population and the harms associated with it.

Policymakers and other decisionmakers are seeking reforms that will sustainably reduce correctional control, spending on prisons, and the harmful long-term effects of a felony conviction. The challenge is providing them with research on alternatives to incarceration that will encourage them to pursue more ambitious reductions in prison admissions and time served.

That is why the current momentum on these issues comes at such a critical time. Whether we have reached a tipping point in our experiment with mass incarceration will depend on our ability to measure the impact of existing reforms and provide the evidence base for new and promising ideas. In doing so, it’s important to remember the following:

Correctional control extends beyond the number of people of prison and jail. For every person incarcerated, more than two people are being supervised by probation or parole. These populations are a major driver of the prison population, in particular the population of inmates who have committed non-violent offenses. Crimes that did not merit incarceration at sentencing often result in it after offenders fail to follow the rules of probation and more than 1 in 4 prison admissions is for a violation of parole.

Policymakers need practical solutions. Seven million people did not end up under correctional control overnight, and we’re not going to end mass incarceration by painting policy with a broad brush. Repealing “tough on crime” policies, such as mandatory minimums and truth-in-sentencing, would go a long way toward that goal but are unlikely to occur on a wide scale. There are thousands of criminal offenses, each often with their own penalties and time-served requirements, and state legislators remain skeptical of wholesale changes to sentencing and release laws.

But what about dramatic reductions in sentence lengths for an increase in certainty of time served in prison? What about prohibitions or limits on revocations of probation and parole when a new crime has not been committed? What about making probation the presumptive punishment for more offenses? States have begun to experiment with these types of changes, and we need to understand more about their impact on correctional populations, public budgets, and recidivism.

Incarceration is the end result of many decisions. The criminal justice system is a complicated interplay of many actors and decision points. People enter into the criminal justice system and fall under correctional control due to many factors—law enforcement funding, sentencing laws, prosecutorial practices, court decisions, release guidelines, and revocation policy, just to name a few. State-level policy reforms are a critical first step, but we need to have a greater understanding of what works at the local level to prevent crime and how best to respond when it does happen.

Research is needed on reforms both modest and ambitious. Over the next few months, the Urban Institute will be profiling the points in the criminal justice system that result in correctional control and highlighting promising policies that merit further examination. With the right mix of responses, we can reduce correctional control in America and ultimately end mass incarceration.

Photo: Associated Press/California Department of Corrections.

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Filed under: Corrections, reentry, and community supervision, Courts and sentencing, Crime and Justice, Policing and crime prevention
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Thank you for not carrying: how businesses will shape the US's next big firearms debate

Author: Sam Bieler

| Posted: May 22nd, 2014




Earlier this week, national burrito chain Chipotle requested that customers refrain from bringing guns into their restaurants. The company issued the appeal in response to a social media campaign led by reform groups, sparked by a photo of firearm enthusiasts openly carrying rifles in a Dallas-area restaurant. Starbucks issued a similar “no-carry” request in September 2013, suggesting that private businesses may become the new arena for determining the scope of American gun rights. Given the tendency of firearms debates to spiral, business owners may soon have to confront an issue they probably don’t teach in typical MBA programs: do I ban carrying firearms in my store?

Safety and security will probably not decide this issue. With violent crime at stable lows, property crime declining, and the average value of stolen goods in business robberies amounting to only $1,754, businesses are unlikely to be either overly fearful of the risks of armed people in their establishments or overly appreciative of the security they provide against a negligible risk.

The decision will likely come down to the first rule of business: the customer is always right. How comfortable customers are alongside people prominently displaying guns will probably guide owners’ decisions.

Starbucks and Chipotle cited the same motivation in their no-carry requests. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz called the presence of weapons “unsettling and upsetting,” while Chipotle called the display of guns “potentially intimidating or uncomfortable for many of our customers.” This directly affects a business’s bottom line, as customers’ comfort in a store is tied to purchasing decisions.

Here are a few factors to consider as this issue unfolds:

  • Gun ownership: Gun owners are, unsurprisingly, comfortable around firearms, and research suggests that being around or involved in firearm culture can encourage others to be more comfortable owning and using firearms. Gun ownership figures in the United States remain cloudy, but evidence suggests that the percent of gun-owning Americans, after falling as low as 33-34 percent, is climbing again, possibly as high as 47 percent in 2012. If the number of gun owners increases and Americans grow more comfortable around firearms, businesses will be less likely to alienate an increasingly large segment of potential customers with no-carry requests.


  • High-profile incidents: Both the Chipotle and Starbucks no-carry requests were sparked by similar incidents: publicized, high-profile visits to franchises by gun-rights activists prominently displaying firearms, followed by a backlash from gun-reform advocates. For gun owners, these demonstrations may actually be counterproductive—highly visible rifles may breed discomfort in a way that a handgun unobtrusively holstered beneath a shirt or jacket does not. In their no-carry requests, Chipotle and Starbucks showed a strong desire to stay out of one of America’s most contentious policy debates and, absent the kind of external pressure imposed on these two companies, other businesses may be hesitant to alienate customers through behavior bans or overt political statements. Similarly, serious or highly publicized incidents like mass shootings could dramatically alter businesses’ perceptions of the risks and rewards of allowing firearms on their premises.


  • Corporate brand: While no corporation is likely to go out of its way to alienate any customers, if outside pressure forces them to pick a side, they may choose to play to their customer base. Liberals and conservatives don’t always patronize the same businesses, and these differences vary by region. Similarly, there are dramatic differences in gun ownership by area: in 2002, the percentage of homes with firearms ranged from 5.2 percent in DC to 62.8 percent in Wyoming. If forced to pick, a business will likely take into account its core constituency—and smart businesses will probably leave the question up to individual franchise owners, who can adapt policies to local sentiment and climate.

With federal action stalled and states increasingly unified in one direction or another, the next big question in the guns debate will be how private businesses handle firearms. This decision will likely hinge on how willing their customers are to share the burrito line or barista counter with a firearm.

Photo Credit: Brian Wilkins via Compfight cc

Filed under: Crime and Justice, Policing and crime prevention |Tags: , , , ,

Ethel Lawrence's efforts produced 40,000 affordable homes in New Jersey

Author: Elizabeth S. Glenn

| Posted: May 20th, 2014

Douglas Massey’s book Climbing Mount Laurel is as much a story as it is a study.

The story itself is a compelling one, chronicling the efforts of community matriarch Ethel Lawrence to establish decent affordable housing for the low- and very low-income residents of Mount Laurel, New Jersey. Lawrence’s efforts resulted in the creation of affordable housing in Mount Laurel and led the way for the New Jersey Supreme Court decisions known as Mount Laurel I and II. These decisions established the Fair Share Housing policy, which led to the creation of over 40,000 units of affordable housing in areas outside of New Jersey’s racially and economically segregated urban areas.

The “Mount Laurel Doctrine” prohibits New Jersey townships from discriminating against low-income individuals and households through land use and zoning policy. The irony of the Mount Laurel story is that if the township of Mount Laurel simply proceeded with developing the original 36 units of affordable housing that Ethel Lawrence fought for, the resulting Mount Laurel doctrine would never have happened. Because of Lawrence’s tenacity, advocacy, and passion, instead of 36 units of affordable housing being built, over 40,000 units of affordable housing have been built. These units are a lasting legacy in the name of Ethel Lawrence.

The story of Mount Laurel has profound significance, but the study Douglas Massey and his colleagues conducted is also important. The authors used a methodology that was sound and scientific, demonstrating unequivocally that the presence of affordable housing did not produce any negative impact on the adjacent communities. The affordable housing did not hurt the property values of the adjacent communities, nor did it cause local taxes to increase. The local crime rate did not increase and schools did not experience any negative impact on test scores. Despite the notoriety associated with New Jersey’s Supreme Court decisions, many people in the adjacent communities were unaware that the affordable housing community named for Ethel Lawrence was an affordable housing community.

Further, the study also measured the satisfaction of the Ethel Lawrence Homes residents and the positive effects they experienced from living in affordable housing within an economically and racially diverse suburban community. The residents experienced satisfaction as a result of living in a safer environment, with access to better-quality amenities and better-quality schools. Students spent more time studying and, as a result, performed well in school. The study’s ability to measure satisfaction and stress levels also underscored the emotional and mental well-being that can result when families are able to live in non-segregated areas. Perhaps most important, Climbing Mount Laurel provides conclusive evidence to demonstrate the importance and value of providing affordable housing for low- to very low-income individuals and households.

Image of Mount Laurel Homes in New Jersey, from Google Street View.

Filed under: Affordability, Affordable housing, Crime and Justice, Housing and Housing Finance, Housing subsidies, Infrastructure, Low-income working families, NJ, Poverty, Vulnerability, and the Safety Net |Tags: , , , , ,
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How language and cultural barriers prevent some victims from accessing sexual assault exams

Author: Darakshan Raja

| Posted: May 19th, 2014


The sexual assault medical forensic exam gives victims an opportunity to receive medical care for injuries, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy prevention. It also connects victims to counseling and timely evidence collection. However, not every victim who may want an exam receives one. What prevents victims from accessing exams?

For many, it’s not the cost. Last week, we released findings from a new national study of the 2005 Violence Against Women Act, which requires states or another entity to bear the full cost for exams, regardless of whether a victim reports the assault to the police. In the 19 jurisdictions we studied, victims generally received free exams without having to report their assault.

But while the focus of our study was on how states were implementing payment practices for exams, we learned that even gaining access to the exam can be an issue, particularly for victims who do not speak English or are from immigrant communities.

Here’s what we found:

  • Victims who don’t speak English have a harder time accessing the exam than English-speaking victims. About 3 of every 4 state sexual assault coalitions and over half of local sexual assault agencies reported that non-English-speaking victims had a harder time obtaining exams. Some attributed this to challenges associated with understanding the exam process, the criminal justice process, and their rights as victims. For others, it’s as simple as a lack of access to interpreters or bilingual Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, medical personnel, and social workers. Sometimes providers rely on family members or law enforcement to translate for victims, which raises serious concerns surrounding confidentiality and privacy.
  • Non-English-speaking and immigrant communities can face a lack of sensitive and culturally relevant services. These groups might experience discrimination, hostility, and lack of patience from some direct services providers. Sometimes, immigrant victims—particularly those who are undocumented—fear the criminal justice system, which in turn can make them afraid to seek help.
  • Immigrant communities may lack awareness of exams and other services. There seems to be minimal outreach to immigrant communities to educate them about the availability of local sexual assault service providers and how to contact them, and a lack of information in multiple languages.
  • Cultural barriers get in the way.  We also learned that in some communities, shame, stigma, and the lack of acknowledgement of rape and sexual assault create significant challenges for victims to come forward and report. And in the event they might make a report, they may not be supported by their families or their community.

These barriers prevent victims from accessing important medical care and other services, and limit the criminal justice system’s ability to hold perpetrators accountable. That is why it is critical to continue to train first responders, such as nurses, advocates, and law enforcement, to appropriately respond to historically marginalized groups and raise awareness about available services through proactive, culturally sensitive outreach.

ER sign photo from Shutterstock

Filed under: Benefits and services, Crime and Justice, Immigrants and Immigration, Public health |Tags: , , , , ,
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Who pays for sexual assault exams?

Author: Janine Zweig and Lisa Newmark

| Posted: May 14th, 2014


Until the 2005 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), some states required sexual assault victims seeking medical forensic exams—the “rape kit”—to report the crime to police in order for the exam to be free-of-charge. In other words, if victims were unsure about reporting the assault to the police, or if they had already decided not to involve the authorities, then they were left to pay for the exam themselves.

What is important to understand here is that no other crime carries the expectation that victims might pay for evidence collection during the criminal investigation process. It is because the crime scene for a sexual assault is a victim’s body, and the process during which the evidence is collected is through a medical exam, that this expectation developed.

In the aftermath of what could be the most traumatic event of their lives, victims need access to a timely evidence collection process. But they also need time to process the assault without being rushed into the decision about whether or not to involve law enforcement. And, victims need both of these things without the added worry of paying for the exam.

And since the exam provides much more to victims than evidence collection—i.e., a connection to medical care for injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, and possible pregnancy, and often a connection to advocacy and counseling services—they should not be prevented from receiving it, regardless of their interest in involving the police. VAWA 2005 addressed this, mandating that states receiving federal funding to support violence against women services and criminal justice initiatives had to provide free exams without conditioning them on reporting the assault to law enforcement.

But how are states adhering to this requirement? Our team surveyed state-level sexual assault coalitions, state funding and grant administrators, and over 400 community-based sexual assault service providers to learn about how exams were conducted and who paid for them. In 19 jurisdictions across six states, we also interviewed health care-based exam providers, law enforcement, prosecutors, victims, and advocates.

Here’s some of what we found when it comes to payment:

  • Victim compensation funds are by far the largest designated source of funds to pay for medical forensic exams across the United States. Thirty-four states use compensation funds to pay for all or part of the exams.
  • Very few states use law enforcement or prosecution funds. By comparison, only 11 states paid for exams using funds that are typically used for evidence collection to build criminal cases.
  • Funding for exams is precarious. Health care-based exam providers reported that exams often cost more than some state-mandated payment caps allow, putting hospitals in the position of absorbing the additional cost or billing it to the victims.

Victim compensation is intended to pay for services that directly benefit victims. These victims have most often been subjected to violent crimes, including sexual assault, as well as physical assault, domestic violence and stalking, homicide, child physical and sexual abuse, drunk driving, and robbery. Medical and dental services, mental health counseling, lost wages, and funeral or burial expenses are the most common types of expenses compensated.

It is clear that the medical services provided in an exam directly benefit victims and are in keeping with the mission of compensation. Plus, the exam can serve as an important link to additional medical services as well as referrals to counseling, advocacy, and other services that directly benefit victims.

But some have questioned—through this study and otherwise—whether compensation funds intended to benefit victims should be used to pay for forensic evidence collection intended to build a criminal case. Is forensic evidence collection a benefit to victims, or is it a benefit to the justice system? Victims who have had negative experiences with the justice system might say that it is no benefit to victims at all.

Medical examiners do not bill victim compensation programs for autopsy services, so why should compensation pay for evidence collection in sexual assault cases? Moreover, when compensation funds are tight and every dollar spent on forensic evidence collection cannot be spent on services that directly benefit victims, the issue moves beyond the philosophical to the very practical.

We also learned that in some communities, payment is not the issue, but access to the exam is.  We’ll elaborate on these findings in a second post.

Filed under: Crime and Justice, Forensic science, Health care delivery and payment, Justice Policy Center, Other, Victims of crime |Tags: , , , ,

Mass incarceration: Why the costs outweigh the benefits

Author: Nancy La Vigne

| Posted: May 2nd, 2014



This week, the National Research Council released a landmark report exploring the causes and consequences of mass incarceration. The comprehensive work, authored by a committee of thinkers at the forefront of criminal justice and social science, concludes that the costs of the current rate of incarceration vastly outweigh the benefits. Among the detrimental effects are employment obstacles faced by returning prisoners, economic and other hardships on their children and families, the acute impact on minority and poor communities, and enormous financial expenditures from public coffers.

Concluding that the United States has “gone past the point where the numbers of people in prison can be justified by social benefits,” the committee recommends a thoughtful reconsideration of sentencing policy, prison policy, and social policy to better align with the core values of justice and jurisprudence.

Indeed, this report comes at a time of unprecedented momentum surrounding criminal justice issues. State and federal leaders on both sides of the aisle are talking about and, in many places, passing substantial reform packages. It is critical that this larger justice reform conversation, which can frequently turn both political and emotional in nature, draw from the expanding base of data and research pointing the way to what works.

We know from our research on the federal prison population that a host of reforms will be needed to reduce the growth of the federal prison system. These include:

  • Reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum drug sentences
  • Giving judges discretion in the application of mandatory minimums
  • Lowering the minimum share of a sentence an offender is required to serve

We’re also learning from the experiences of the states. For example, our assessment of how 17 states are implementing data-driven reforms through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative shows:

  • Using risk-assessment tools can help courts and judges evaluate the likelihood of recidivism.
  • Responding to some crimes and violations with community-based, not prison-based, treatment programs can improve recidivism outcomes.
  • Reducing sentence lengths, expanding parole eligibility, and limiting revocations can reduce unnecessary spending on incarceration.

Statehouses across the country are already coming to the realization that prison is costly, harmful, and comes at the expense of other fiscal priorities. They have begun to pass sweeping reforms to stem the tide, but many are simply slowing the growth rather than bending the curve.

Examining the role and effectiveness of alternatives to incarceration was beyond the scope of the National Research Council report, but we know that informed policy decisions will require measuring the impact of reforms and developing a larger body of research on what works. Viable alternatives that have an evidence-based impact on crime, imprisonment, and public spending will go a long way toward reversing this trend.

The National Research Council report is hardly the first of its kind to shed light on a challenging topic, but it is certainly the most thoughtful and comprehensive to date. The next step is for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to take up the charge, developing, implementing, and measuring the impact of policy changes that can safely reduce correctional control in America.

Prison image from Shutterstock

Filed under: Corrections, reentry, and community supervision, Courts and sentencing, Crime and Justice, Crime and justice statistics |Tags: , , , , , , ,
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