Keys to Implement Effective Evidence-Based Practice in Justice Systems

Posted by The Carey Group on
<span id="hs_cos_wrapper_name" class="hs_cos_wrapper hs_cos_wrapper_meta_field hs_cos_wrapper_type_text" style="" data-hs-cos-general-type="meta_field" data-hs-cos-type="text" >Keys to Implement Effective Evidence-Based Practice in Justice Systems</span>

Ensuring a successful and sustainable Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) in your workplace requires a combination of essential tools, training, planning, coaching, ongoing support, and implementation. Decades of experience demonstrate that aligning justice and behavioral health systems around evidence-based policies and practices offers the most significant promise of success. 

Understanding the Components of Evidence-Based Practices

Influencing and supporting lasting positive behavior change can and does occur when EBP best practices are correctly and consistently implemented. The National Institute of Corrections  has compiled eight core principles of evidence-based practices that, when combined, are scientifically proven to result in a greater reduction of recidivism.  

  1. Use actuarial assessments 
  2. Enhance motivation to change 
  3. Use targeted intervention 
  4. Skill train with directed practice 
  5. Increase positive reinforcements 
  6. Engage ongoing family and community support 
  7. Ensure fidelity to processes and practices 
  8. Use data as a guide 

Additional information about these principles is available online: 8 Core Principles of Evidence-Based Practices. 

Once leaders in community justice programs have a basic understanding of the components of evidence-based practices, they should answer a few key questions to determine the degree to which evidence-based practices are being implemented.  

Strategies for Successful Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices 

As the criminal justice system continues to evolve, more and more agencies are turning to evidence-based practices to help them achieve their goals of reducing recidivism rates and enhancing community safety. However, implementing evidence-based practices can be complex and challenging, requiring careful planning, coordination, and stakeholder collaboration. In this context, the Carey Group has developed a free resource, 13 Questions to Ask Community Corrections Leaders About EBP Implementation, that can help stakeholders such as judges, parole boards, and correctional executives build a stronger and more informed approach to identifying the evidence-based practices taking place in their community justice programs and agencies. These 13 questions are intended to prevent inefficiencies and ensure the corrections community receives appropriate service/response. The 13 questions focus on: 

  • Assessment 
  • Case management 
  • Programs 
  • Training and staff deployment 
  • Fidelity and assessment 

Example questions within the guide include:  

  • How are the results of risk/need assessments used?  
  • What policies and practices are in place for responding to prosocial and noncompliant behavior? 
  • How do you determine the types of interventions and dosage for people at medium and high risk?  
  • How are staff placed in the agency? 
  • What data do you give staff to help them improve their effectiveness? 

Beyond detailing questions to ask, the Carey Group’s 13 Questions guide offers insight into specific factors to consider and what to look for based on current research knowledge. The guide also briefly explores the principles, aka, the “why” behind these factors. Answering the questions and understanding current factors are the first steps to moving toward an outcome-oriented, evidence-based practice organization. This may require a cultural change, which can take years to achieve. To make this effort a reality, agencies and stakeholders must collaborate. Working together with similar knowledge, objectives, and tools/processes, justice professionals are better able to enhance community well-being and reduce recidivism. 

However, when appropriate questions aren’t asked or thoroughly assessed, it is common for agencies to experience barriers to successful evidence-based practice implementation. Launching any new practice without an accurate assessment of agency culture, needs, and levels of support may hinder implementation, growth, effectiveness, and outcomes. Just as individuals are encouraged to consult a medical provider before beginning a new exercise routine, consulting with evidence-based practice professionals is encouraged before implementing new practices in your agency. Professionals can help agencies predict and prevent barriers or obstacles that might interfere with implementation and effectiveness; especially if current practices have been in place for a long time. 

Building and Sustaining Evidence-Based Practices 

The 13 questions have been asked, and related factors have been considered. Now what? Use a checklist and action plan worksheet. Our Checklist + Action Plan Worksheet: Building and Sustaining an EBP Organization, aids agencies in building and sustaining evidence-based practices. By assessing work culture and readiness, reviewing the current dispatch of assessments, exploring interactions between employees and justice-involved individuals, analyzing program delivery, and examining performance and audits, agencies are better equipped to prioritize their needs, hone their strengths, and successfully implement evidence-based practices.  

Evidence-based practice implementation is most effective when delivered in stages, and each stage requires regular communication, training, coaching, and analysis. Training transfers knowledge, while coaching focuses on the development of employee skills. When deployed simultaneously, employees can complete the necessary training and work with a coach to develop skills that complement their knowledge. With coaching, employees can be uniquely supported in skill development. The power of a training and coaching approach improves measurable short- and long-term goals and outcomes for justice professionals and those who are justice-involved.  

Evidence-based Practices Work

Evidence-based practices influence behavior change and help people make lasting positive changes. As agencies initiate implementation, having an action plan and offering training and coaching will enhance the sustainability and effectiveness of EBP best practices. Understanding the components of evidence-based practices, identifying a strategy for successful implementation–including asking 13 key questions, and building sustainable evidence-based practices will all contribute to robust justice service programs and delivery. 

The Oxford Review describes EBPs as “ improving our decision-making by using clear, well-researched and evidenced justifications for why we do things in certain ways, with the ultimate goal of delivering continual improvements/innovations, learning, and excellence in our organization or business. In short, it is about developing and fostering best practice and thinking by looking at and critically considering the real evidence and data about an issue rather than just using personal subjective opinions or gut feel.” This is why, when it comes to implementation, it is important to take a thoughtful and strategic approach. Building a culture of evidence-based practice requires a commitment to ongoing learning and improvement, as well as a willingness to evaluate and adjust practices based on the best available evidence. Ultimately, the success of evidence-based practice implementation depends on the commitment of justice professionals to embrace new approaches and incorporate the latest research and data into their decision-making processes.  

Collaborating with evidence-based training and consulting professionals is one of the best ways to successfully implement evidence-based practices, including the training and coaching of these practices. Carey Group is a national consulting and publishing firm that equips justice system and behavioral health professionals with knowledge, skills, and tools that improve clients' lives. Providing an array of evidence-based staff training, organizational consulting services, and evidence-informed intervention tools, Carey Group professionals are the perfect partner for effectively addressing the needs of justice system and behavioral health professionals.  


Related Reading 

National Institute of Justice: Crime Solutions – The Evidence-Based Guide for Justice Agencies in Search of Practices and Programs That Really Work 

United States Courts: Evidence-based Practices 

National Institute of Corrections: Evidence-based Practices (EBP) 

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: Evidence-based Programs 

Pew: Five Evidence-Based Policies Can Improve Community Supervision 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Evidence-Based Practices Resource Center


Related Resources from Carey Group 

8 Principles of Evidence-Based Practices 

13 Questions to Ask Community Corrections Leaders About Evidence-Based Practice Implementation 

Checklist + Action Plan Worksheet: Building and Sustaining an EBP Organization 

Strengthen your organization and improve your leadership skills and ability to implement and maintain healthy, productive organizational strategies: contact a Carey Group consultant who can connect you with effective, research-based policies, practices, and leadership tools. 

Decades of experience demonstrate that aligning justice systems around evidence-based policies and practices offers the greatest promise of success. Carey Group offers services and products for justice system professionals, from evidence-based consulting to interactive workbooks that help improve the mental health and lives of people involved in the justice system.  

Carey Group’s evidence-based training and consulting services address the needs of justice system and behavioral health professionals. Training is an essential tool for keeping staff, supervisors, leadership, and stakeholders up to date with emerging knowledge and expectations for improved outcomes. Carey Group offers in-person, online, and self-directed courses on evidence-based practices, motivational interviewing, core professional competencies, case planning and management, continuous quality improvement, coaching, and the use of behavior-change tools and supervisor resources.