The Third Branch
Summit sets stage for broader implementation of Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM)
By Jon Bellows, District Four Court Administrator
Teams from more than 20 Wisconsin counties met in Madison Jan. 28-29 for the Wisconsin Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM) Summit. Sponsored by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), the summit brought together local justice system teams and partners from throughout Wisconsin.
Attendees met with EBDM site representatives from five other states, Wisconsin state agency representatives, and faculty and staff from the MacArthur Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Center for Effective Public Policy, and the Carey Group to explore the expansion of local EBDM practices and to consider the feasibility of a statewide EBDM effort.
The summit provided the teams with information and a roadmap to integrate evidence-based decision making practices on a local as well as a statewide basis, preparing the teams to apply for technical assistance in 2014. The county-based teams also shared information with a diverse group of state and local officials about the EDBM Framework, which identifies the key structural elements of a system informed by evidence.
The summit is the most recent step in Wisconsin's EBDM effort, which has evolved during the last six years. In 2008, in response to the rising costs of crime and criminal justice, increasing concerns over the impact of crime on victims, and offender recidivism, NIC launched its "Evidence-Based Decision Making in Local Criminal Justice Systems Initiative."
This effort recognized the opportunity offered by an ever-growing body of rigorous research to provide specific, data-driven strategies to address these persistent problems in the criminal justice system. In 2010, NIC provided support to pilot the implementation of this initiative in seven communities throughout the United States. Due in part to Wisconsin's early leadership and involvement with this effort, Milwaukee and Eau Claire counties were selected to be two of the pilot sites.
At its core, the EBDM Framework envisions a criminal justice system that works collaboratively to make decisions informed by research to improve justice system outcomes and increase the safety of communities. Its four main principles are:
- The professional judgment of criminal justice system decision makers is enhanced when informed by evidence-based knowledge.
- Every interaction within the criminal justice system offers an opportunity to contribute to harm reduction.
- Systems achieve better outcomes when they operate collaboratively at the individual, agency, and system levels.
- The criminal justice system will continually learn and improve when professionals make decisions based on the collection, analysis and use of data and information.
The implications for this approach in Wisconsin are enormous. Research, rigorous data analysis and the development of evidence-based practices could, for example, help the system to identify high-risk offenders who provide a real danger to society and to distinguish these offenders from lower risk defendants who could benefit from community supervision or other alternative services.David O'Leary, district attorney for Rock County, member of the state Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and Chair of the state's Evidence-Based Practices Subcommittee, called the summit "a valuable opportunity to share ideas with multiple jurisdictions and various professionals in the field of criminal justice. By applying evidence-based practices to decisions made throughout the criminal justice process, our goals are to reduce recidivism through treatment when appropriate and to focus the use of our limited resources on those individuals who pose the greatest risk."