The Partially Clothed Emperor: Evidence-Based Practices

Published date01 February 2018
Date01 February 2018
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17HMni1AuuBIcO/input 750444CCJXXX10.1177/1043986217750444Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeTaxman
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2018, Vol. 34(1) 97 –114
The Partially Clothed
© The Author(s) 2018
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Emperor: Evidence-Based
DOI: 10.1177/1043986217750444
Faye S. Taxman1
The evidence-based practices literature has defined a core set of practices and
treatments that are effective, at least in empirical studies. Implementing these
evidence-based practices and treatments requires a different set of empirical studies
to understand the operational issues that affects client-driven outcomes. In this
article, we review the following three areas: (a) use of a standardized risk and need
assessment tool, (b) use of cognitive-behavioral programs to address criminogenic
needs, and (c) use of swift and certain responses to shape behavior. The review focuses
on the unanswered questions regarding implementation and organizational change
strategies to increase receptivity for the evidence-based practices, lay the foundation
for improving effectiveness of “evidence-based practices and treatments,” and
provide a work environment that supports evidence-based practices and treatments.
This article outlines a research agenda to build implementation knowledge that can
further the use of evidence-based practices and treatments.
risk and need assessment, cognitive-behavioral programs, swift and certain responses
to behavior, evidence-based practices, implementation issues
“What works” or evidence-based practices (EBPs) and treatments emerged over the
last 40 years as a means to emphasize that community and institutional corrections
should practice what research finds (preaches)—that is, what is relevant and effective
in changing outcomes of individuals in the justice system. If community and institu-
tional corrections are to be successful in reducing recidivism—an outcome that is
frequently cited as the main goal of corrections—then the practices need to
1George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Faye S. Taxman, 4087 University Blvd, Ste 4100, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA.

Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 34(1)
be fine-tuned, modified, or refined to echo those shown to be effective in research
studies. The EBPs and treatment movement emerged in the 1990s as the method to
assist researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to objectively identify practices and
treatments related to better outcomes. In the mass incarceration era, where punitive
approaches dominated public policy discussions, the evidence-based approach offered
a rationale to support a broader, more diverse set of policy initiatives focused on
improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the justice system.
Knowing “what works” is one thing, but implementing these practices and treat-
ments is something entirely different. In fact, Martinson (1974) recognized that the
field of corrections has practices that could reduce recidivism—the true challenge lies
in implementation of these practices and treatments so that they are different than typi-
cal practice. Implementation is where the “rubber meets the road.” That is, we know
“what works,” but we do not yet know how to implement a practice, program, or treat-
ment to deliver the same or similar results found in research studies. We have few
studies on “how to” implement or routinize a practice on different operational, work
practices or even on the comparative effectiveness of different implementation prac-
tices. The progress over the last 40 years is that the research literature has consistently
defined “what works,” but the “how’s” and “what’s” have yet to be clearly articulated.
To complicate matters, we now have a series of trainings that has spread like wildfires
with little evidence to support such training curriculums as being effective in dissemi-
nating knowledge or building skills. As we will discuss below, the challenges ahead
are to develop the evidence-based implementation and organizational change strate-
gies to increase receptivity and adherence for the EBPs, lay the foundation for improv-
ing effectiveness of “evidence-based practices and treatments” and provide a work
environment that supports EBPs and treatments.
In this article, we outline the many unanswered questions associated with our
known knowledge about EBPs. This article begs for more research, with a different set
of research questions with more focus on questions devoted to implementation pro-
cesses and procedures. A need exists to build our knowledge about changing organiza-
tions and work processes to routinize EBPs and treatments. Attention to a different set
of research questions and issues that affect implementation and operational practice
will position the field to avoid spending the next 40 years discussing why agencies do
not use EBPs. The drum roll for answering the “nitty gritty” lies in the efforts to build
our knowledge base and build resilience so that innovations and EBPs are not consid-
ered “expendable.”
We Know What Works but We Lack Knowledge About
the Nitty Gritty
Don Andrews and his colleagues, in 1990, commenced a discussion about “what works”
in corrections. In “Does Correctional Treatment Work? A Clinically Relevant and
Psychologically Informed Meta-Analysis” published in the top-tier journal Criminology
in 1990, Andrews et al. spearheaded the discussion about (a) how to define “what
works” (i.e., EBPs) using sophisticated syntheses strategies instead of relying on a single

study and (b) identified the core treatments and approaches that reduced recidivism.
Their work promotes cognitive-behavioral programs that target criminogenic risk and
need factors. During the 1990s, there was an expulsion of the studies on defining EBPs
and treatment including the Maryland study (Sherman et al., 1997) and the Crime and
Justice Work Group of the Campbell Collaboration (see https://www.campbellcollabora-
The proliferation of systematic reviews and meta-
analyses spurred more emphasis on the list of “what works” but this list has been fairly
steady for nearly 20 years. It generally involves different components regarding the
management of individuals in the justice system including (a) use of standardized, vali-
dated screening and assessment instruments to inform decisions about intensity of social
controls and type of treatment, particularly in case plan; (b) interventions that are effec-
tive with an emphasis on the use of cognitive-behavioral treatment (Andrews & Bonta,
2010; Andrews et al., 1990; Sherman et al., 1997; Taxman, 1999, to name a few), prob-
lem-solving courts (Mitchell, Wilson, Eggers, & MacKenzie, 2012), Risk-Need-
Responsivity (RNR) supervision (Drake, 2012), therapeutic communities; and (c)
correctional programs or treatments that are not effective such as boot camps, intensive
supervision with only controls, incarceration, and case management (Andrews & Bonta,
2010, for a more complete list or MacKenzie, 2006).
“Newbies” on the list (i.e., added within the last 20 years) are still accumulating
evidence, and often there are mixed findings, inconsistent findings, or implementation
concerns. The implementation concerns are similar to those found on the “what works”
list. The two new ones are graduated responses or the use of swift, certain approaches
that respond to negative behavior (see Hawken, 2016; Lattimore et al., 2016, for a few
discussions) and working relationships between officers and individuals in the justice
system (see Taxman, 2002; Taxman & Ainsworth, 2009). Given limited space, this
article will discuss three EBPs. We will review what we know and outline the unan-
swered operational issues that affect both implementation and outcomes in three areas:
•• Use of a standardized risk and need assessment tool
•• Use of cognitive-behavioral programs to address criminogenic needs
•• Use of swift and certain responses to shape behavior
Using Standardized Screening and Assessment Tools
What we know.
The use of a standardized, validated risk and need assessment tool is
one critical EBP. That is, standardized risk assessment tools are recommended to reduce
subjective assessments by officers, therefore reducing discretion and creating more
standard decisions across correctional officers in like situations. Validated, standard-
ized risk and need assessment tools are based on actuarial methods that identify factors
that are related to the outcome (recidivism). By using these standardized factors, deci-
sions are supported by information that has been shown to be useful and effective (see
Burrell, 2016, for a discussion of the tools and rationale for using them). A number of
standardized risk and need assessment tools exist, many of which are proprietary. At
this point, there is no evidence that one type of tool is better than another but the

Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 34(1)
research supports that a standardized risk and need assessment tool improves the accu-
racy of the prediction of the desired outcome as compared with clinical judgment. The
use of a standardized tool reduces bias, improves accuracy, and standardizes the infor-
mation used in the decision calculus across staff. The research...

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