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Forum on Global Violence Prevention; Board on Global Health; Institute of Medicine; National Research Council. The Evidence for Violence Prevention Across the Lifespan and Around the World: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2014 Mar 18.

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The Evidence for Violence Prevention Across the Lifespan and Around the World: Workshop Summary.

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Mary Lou Leary, J.D., M.Ed., and Thomas P. Abt, J.D. Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice

The drop in crime rates over the past two decades has been accompanied by another encouraging trend: the use of social science research and other forms of evidence to design criminal justice policies and programs. The federal government, through the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), is playing a prominent role in driving this trend by collecting information about evidence-based violence prevention practices and making it available to justice system professionals.

The federal role in criminological research is, of course, not new. President Lyndon Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice said in 1967 that “the greatest need is the need to know” and recommended the creation of federal offices to support state and local law enforcement and to generate knowledge aimed at improving public safety, the forerunners of OJP and its National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, 1967). Over the years, NIJ, as DOJ's primary research and evaluation agency, has improved our understanding of domestic and sexual violence, drug markets, the life course of criminals, and many other important criminal justice topics. But until recently, the impact of this research, so profound in potential, has been largely regarded as a sideline to crime fighting and violence prevention efforts in the United States.

Integrating Evidence

Curiosity about what spurred the crime decline and an immediate need to maximize resources in tight budget times have driven a self-examination among civic leaders and justice system practitioners, who are no longer content to rely on age-old approaches of doubtful merit. They want to know what works. In 2009, backed by Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration, OJP began an earnest effort to make evidence central to its programmatic and policy decisions across the agency, not only in NIJ and its data collection arm, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, but also in its grant-making offices, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA); the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP); the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC); and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART).

The Evidence Integration Initiative, or E2I as it is familiarly known, has three fundamental goals: (1) to improve both the quantity and quality of evidence generated by OJP, (2) to integrate that evidence into program and policy decisions, and (3) to improve the translation of evidence into practice. Its primary purpose is to help the field understand what has been shown to work, determining effectiveness by the scientific principles undergirding the approaches and by credible evaluation techniques. A cornerstone of the E2I is an online repository of evidence-based programs called is designed to be a single source of information for practitioners and policy makers about effective, promising, and ineffective programs in criminal and juvenile justice and crime victim services, essentially spanning the range of OJP activities. is meant to serve mayors, law enforcement executives, judges, prosecutors, state criminal justice planners, and others who administer justice programs and decide how to allocate resources in their communities, states, or tribes. Currently, the site contains more than 250 program profiles, with comprehensive descriptive information and evaluation outcomes for each one.

A key feature is its evidence rating system, which places each program in one of three categories—“effective,” “promising,” or showing “no effects”—based on an eight-step review and rating process. Included in the “effective” category are therapeutic prevention-centered approaches such as functional family therapy, a program for high-risk youth that concentrates on removing risk factors and increasing protective factors through flexibly structured and culturally sensitive clinical sessions, and multisystemic therapy, which involves the family and treats adolescents in the environments that foster problem behaviors. On, users will find programs like these and other violence prevention and reduction programs that have been shown to work or that have potential and, just as important, programs that have not demonstrated effectiveness.

In developing, OJP made it a priority to strike an appropriate balance between practical utility and social science rigor. On the one hand, OJP aimed to increase access to evidence of program effectiveness for a wide range of practitioners and policy makers so that they may be better informed in their decision making. On the other hand, the many practical areas within criminal justice, juvenile justice, and crime victim services lacked a substantial body of evidence based on the most rigorous forms of social science program evaluation. adheres to conventions around standards for causal evidence in that only randomized experimental designs and quasi-experimental designs are accepted. However, the inclusion of a “promising” category allows to make accessible a wide range of evidence that might otherwise be overlooked due to noted limitations in the original study methods. This allows a wider range of practitioners to benefit from social science evidence as they face difficult challenges and decisions in the work they do every day.

The inclusion of a “no effects” category was carefully considered and debated during the development of There are inherent risks to stating that something does not achieve its intended outcomes. However, it was through communication with intended users—justice practitioners and policy makers—that OJP resolved to include this category. Those groups emphasized that it was important for them to have a credible source for identifying ineffective programs because some of these programs remain popular in spite of the evidence. uses the “no effects” label to apply to programs that have not achieved their intended outcomes and those programs that have actually produced negative effects. The online profiles for programs that have produced negative effects are clearly marked with statements about those effects. From an evidence standpoint, the same high standards of social science evidence that apply to “effective” programs are applied to “no effects” programs—the only difference is the direction of the observed effect.

OJP has been very pleased with the response and reaction to from the field. There has been significant growth in use of the website since the launch in June 2011. The launch of the site was recognized by The Crime Report as 1 of the 10 most significant news stories in criminal justice in 2011. In early 2013, the website averaged more than 60,000 visitors per month. OJP continues to work to improve and to seek input from users.

Preventing and Treating Violence Among Youth exemplifies the approach to integrating evidence into practice embodied in E2I. Individual programs in each OJP program office also reinforce these evidence-based principles. A high priority of OJP, DOJ, and the Obama administration is preventing youth violence, an issue the President has discussed against the backdrop of the current debate on gun violence. As national rates of crime and violence remain at historically low levels, some communities are nevertheless experiencing higher levels of violence, much of it committed by and against young people.

Under an initiative called the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention led by the White House, federal agencies—including DOJ—and 10 cities have formed a network to develop strategies aimed at sustainably reducing youth and gang violence. OJP plays a principal role in facilitating the exchange of information among the sites and in organizing meetings to brainstorm and share ideas. The National Forum operates on three basic tenets: multidisciplinary partnerships; strategies informed by data and research; and balanced approaches that emphasize prevention, intervention, enforcement, and re-entry.

The National Forum encourages the adoption of evidence-based programs such as CureViolence (formerly CeaseFire), which employs a public health model for violence prevention. CureViolence focuses attention on the small group of high-risk offenders likely to be involved in violent crime and simultaneously works through public education and community mobilization to change behavioral norms. Another approach to violence prevention that has been tried with great success is the focused deterrence model, pioneered in Boston, Massachusetts, to tackle gun markets and in High Point, North Carolina, to take down drug markets. These programs used what is referred to as the “pulling levers” approach, a carrot-and-stick tactic that leverages the threat of severe consequences to prevent illegal activity while extending the offer of support to those willing to reform their behavior. OJP's OJJDP funds several projects that build on these techniques through its Community-Based Violence Prevention Initiative.

Violence prevention programs are most effective when intervention begins early, particularly for children who live in violent situations or are otherwise exposed to violence. Sixty percent of children in the United States are exposed to some form of violence or abuse, either directly as victims or indirectly as witnesses or by being nearby when it is committed (Finkelhor et al., 2009). Research has found that this exposure can lead to a host of problems, including future criminal behavior. But we also know that children have an extraordinary capacity for recovery and resilience. Programs constructed on a firm evidence-based foundation, such as those using multisystemic therapeutic approaches, can blunt the impact of violence in a child's life. It also is worth remarking that most youth who commit serious offenses will greatly reduce their offending over time, so interventions that are based solely on enforcement and confinement and that do not provide for rehabilitation can be limited in their effectiveness, as well as costly in both human and economic terms (Mulvey, 2011).

In October 2010, the Attorney General launched an initiative called Defending Childhood, for which OJP—and its OJJDP in particular—is the lead component. Defending Childhood has three goals: to prevent children's exposure to violence, to mitigate the negative effects experienced by those who are exposed, and to develop knowledge about and raise awareness of the issue. In addition to funding demonstration programs in eight cities, OJP is supporting research projects to improve our understanding of the causes and consequences of exposure to violence. Moreover, a national task force appointed by the Attorney General produced a report outlining 56 recommendations for action to be taken by federal, state, and local governments, as well as researchers and community organizations. Among the recommendations are several designed to inculcate evidence in practice, including the incorporation of evidence-based, trauma-informed principles in federal grants; continued support of a data collection infrastructure to monitor trends in children exposed to violence; and education and training to help child-serving professionals screen and assess children exposed to violence.

Changing Policy

Preventing violence and promoting public safety are also advanced through “back end” strategies that address the risks, costs, and needs posed by those returning to society after being incarcerated. Legislators, government executives, and justice system leaders in many states have begun to turn away from costly prison-based activities and toward practices designed to reduce crime, violence, and recidivism. OJP, primarily through its BJA, is supporting state and local efforts to reduce the incidence of reoffending. Along with the Pew Center on the States, BJA funded a study by the Council of State Governments that found states are realizing success in lowering recidivism by focusing on science-based principles in managing the corrections population, for example, by focusing on those most likely to offend and using risk instruments to guide their work. Authorities in Ohio, for instance, were able to reduce recidivism 11 percent over 3 years by using validated risk assessment instruments to target treatment and supervision to high-risk individuals. Rates in Kansas dropped 15 percent after officials placed a heightened emphasis on postrelease supervision, among other services. Under the authority of the Second Chance Act, BJA is funding additional states to experiment with these strategies.

Through an initiative called Justice Reinvestment, OJP—in partnership with the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the Pew Center on the States, and the Urban Institute—provides resources to states and counties to help them determine, based on crime data, how to reallocate resources to reduce recidivism and save public dollars. These approaches have been tied to success in states both red and blue. To take one example, the Kentucky General Assembly enacted legislation, based on a Justice Reinvestment analysis, that reserves prison beds for the most serious offenders and refocuses resources on community supervision and evidence-based programs. The state is projected to reduce its prison population by more than 3,000 inmates over the next 10 years and save some $422 million as a result of the new law.

Helping the formerly incarcerated stay crime free is a high priority of the Attorney General. He chairs a Federal Interagency Reentry Council, created to coordinate federal resources and advance federal policy to bolster state and local re-entry efforts. The heads of 20 federal agencies, including several cabinet-level officials, participate. Since 2009, OJP has made more than 400 awards totaling more than $250 million under the Second Chance Act to support adult and juvenile re-entry programs.

A common element of re-entry, justice reinvestment, and recidivism reduction activities is an emphasis on the role of community corrections programs, particularly probation and parole. Rather than viewing it simply as an intermediate or alternative stage of punishment, practitioners and policy makers increasingly see community supervision as an opportunity for reform and accountability. Perhaps the most well-known example is the Honest Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program, begun by Steven Alm, a Circuit Court judge in Honolulu. The HOPE model applies immediate, predictable, and proportionate sanctions for probation violators. Research has shown remarkable success rates among participants. An NIJ evaluation found that the new arrest rate of HOPE participants was less than half that of other probationers (Hawken and Kleiman, 2009). HOPE is now considered by many to be a model of the benefits of swift and certain—and not necessarily severe—punishment. OJP's BJA and NIJ are currently testing the approach through a multisite demonstration project that will include randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to measure its effectiveness in other jurisdictions.

Moving Ahead

OJP has instituted a broad strategic approach for integrating evidence in its programmatic and policy-making activities. Its efforts have received support from both Attorney General Holder, who has used his position to call for evidence-based practices in criminal justice and has appointed a Science Advisory Board to guide science into OJP's programs, and President Barack Obama, who with the approval of Congress has set aside 2 percent of OJP's budget for research, statistical, and evaluation activities. Under their leadership, evidence now occupies a central position in federal criminal justice planning. The vision of President Johnson's Crime Commission—of a justice system informed by knowledge—is coming into clearer focus.

Copyright 2014 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Bookshelf ID: NBK195916
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