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Last modified: Monday, September 21, 2009

Indiana Correction Department and IU School of Education center collaborate on best practices

Work leads to Indiana Center for Evidence-Based Practices in Community Corrections

September 21, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A four-year effort to bring the best research into practice in Indiana's community corrections programs is the focus today (Sept. 21) of a conference focusing on the work between the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) work and the Center for Adolescent and Family Studies (CAFS).

The partnership has resulted in establishment of the Indiana Center for Evidence-Based Practices in Community Corrections as part of an effort combining ongoing research into best practices with in-field assistance and professional development for those conducting community corrections programs.

Representatives from the IDOC and Indiana University School of Education's CAFS are participating in a day-long conference focusing on the collaboration that is called "Evidence-Based Practice Learning Institute: Improving Practice, Outcomes, and Accountability in Community Corrections." The event is at the Indiana Memorial Union on the IU Bloomington campus.

The agenda includes sessions on trends in evidence-based practices, current research in the primary areas of community corrections and a review of outcomes in the ongoing collaboration between IDOC and the Center for Evidence-Based Practices. The conference is intended to help prepare professionals to improve practices, outcomes, and accountability in community corrections.

Thomas E. Feucht, executive senior science advisor at National Institute of Justice, the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, will make a presentation on community corrections practice and policy. "The project is to set up an independent evaluation and research institute," said Tom Sexton, director of CAFS and professor of counseling and educational psychology, in describing the collaborative center. "It works with the Department of Correction to evaluate and identify what they do at the level of communities, to take that evaluation and figure out what are the effective programs, help them figure out how to use that to make funding policy so that they can increasingly support things that work."

Community corrections focus on diverting some criminal offenders from state prisons through county-based programs that are aimed at reducing recidivism. Since its start with three counties in 1981, 74 Indiana counties now participate in state-funded community corrections programs. In 2008, around 58,000 participated in community corrections. That growth spurred correction leaders to seek some guidance regarding policies and procedures.

"We reached a point where we really needed someone to help us get a little further, help the counties refine the programs that they had," said Randy Koester, the Deputy Commissioner of Re-Entry for the IDOC. Koester said the IDOC has been encouraging community corrections programs to transition to evidence-based practices -- those supported as effective by research data.

"This is the first time we're taking a very objective look at what's going on and what's working with the idea of modeling the best of what's happening across the state so that we get the best out of community corrections," he said.

During the project, CAFS will assess data from across Indiana to determine how well community corrections works with evidence-based practices. Researchers will then disseminate findings to state and local administrators and establish technical assistance to help choose, implement and operate evidence-based programs. The most current research and technical information will be available on a "clearing house" Web site. CAFS will conduct state-wide evidence-based practices workshops.

"What we're going to be doing is bringing to the Department of Correction a set of national standards for things, helping them move forward in the development of thought about their programs around a theme of what works," Sexton said. " 'What works' means it produces good outcomes, but if it produces good outcomes, by definition, it's accountable and cost-effective."

The partnership has drawn praise from Indiana State Representative Peggy Welch of Bloomington, who said she appreciates the need for evidence-based practices. "And I appreciate that there is a cooperative effort, a partnership, to make sure that we provide the best services to our citizens, which is also going to turn out to be the best use of our taxpayer dollars in the long run," Welch said.

Koester said there are a few similar models in other states, but most community corrections programs rely on research and technical help from the National Institute of Corrections, based in Washington, D.C. "This is catered to the needs of Indiana," Koester said. "If you're a decision-maker, whether you're a judge or a director of community corrections, it's the information that is specific to Indiana that is most valuable to you."

The project is funded by a grant of just over $1.5 million from the IDOC to the CAFS. Sexton said the project will bring an independent lens through which to view IDOC community corrections efforts.

"The best way to make policy is to create an independent evaluation and research center that they can turn to and ask particular questions," he said. "We'll develop the data about it. They're then able to develop new policy. So it's a long-term project intended to create this relationship. It brings sort of the best of both worlds to the table."