Randomized Controlled Trials in Corrections

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has released a white paper, Conducting Randomized Controlled Trials in State Prisons. The Litmus Program’s BetaGov initiative is profiled as a supplement to the traditional RCT model, offering rapid-cycle testing and use of staff to reduce cost and time.

BetaGov…staff train practitioners and government employees to become directly involved in the experimental process. These trained practitioners are referred to as “pracademics.”...The typical RCT evaluation at BetaGov is concluded in three to six months. Its evaluation model is drawn from the private sector, which has long relied on simple, pragmatic RCTs to improve efficiency and performance.

The white paper also highlights one example of BetaGov’s work with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC).

In 2015, PA DOC partnered with BetaGov to start using a rapid-cycle model for conducting RCT evaluation and experimentation around three agency goals: (1) reducing in-prison violence, (2) reducing the use of restrictive housing, and (3) improving staff wellness. All staff at every level in the agency were invited to submit ideas for experimenting with new programs, practices, and policies around these three goals. Since 2015, more than 200 trial ideas have been submitted and at least three dozen RCT evaluations have been completed....The model has worked so well that in 2018 it was extended to evaluating community corrections and reentry interventions, with the primary goal of finding the best ways to reduce recidivism....This model has allowed PA DOC to rapidly develop broad and strong evidence around what works and what does not work for furthering agency goals. Through this process, PA DOC has developed into a “learning organization,” where experimentation is encouraged, strong RCT evaluation designs are promoted, and failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Read the White Paper

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