The Correctional Program Assessment Inventory (CPAI) is the best way to evaluate your reentry program in a time of increased focus on recidivism reduction and rehabilitation. Despite the tumultuous political environment of the current election cycle, politicians on both sides of the aisle have found a bipartisan foothold on the issue of criminal justice reform. In Washington D.C. and across the country, advocates like the U.S. Justice Action Network are putting pressure on legislative and presidential candidates to make criminal justice reform an important campaign issue. And at both the state and federal level, policymakers are working to reduce harsh sentencing laws and increase funding and support for rehabilitation and recidivism reduction efforts.
In fact, just last month, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an initiative to help former prisoners re-enter society, reducing the likelihood they end up back behind bars. In his weekly address, President Obama highlighted the DOJ’s efforts, explaining, “We need to ensure that [inmates] are prepared to reenter society and become productive, contributing members of their families and communities – and maybe even role models.”
This increased emphasis on reducing sentences and supporting rehabilitation is great news if your organization works with inmates and formerly incarcerated individuals. The increased visibility and potential for new funding sources allows your organization to strengthen programs and showcase success. It also increases the importance of conducting rigorous evaluations.
Acing a criminal justice program evaluation isn’t something that happens overnight. There is a well-developed body of research on “what works” when it comes to reducing recidivism and other criminal justice outcomes. The key is turning that research into execution, and building programs that actually do “what works.”
So, how do you build for success? We have a few tips to get you started.
Correctional Program Assessment Tools
“Rigorous evaluation is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity,” explains Professor Edward J. Latessa, Director of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati. “Programs and agencies are being asked, ‘Does it work?’ and funding sources are not satisfied with anecdotal information and informal evaluations.”
Using evidence-based evaluation tools to assess your program’s effectiveness and outcomes is critical. The CPAI was developed through a meta-analysis of correctional effectiveness studies. The CPAI is a foundation tool for assessing correctional programs based on empirical criteria. Many programs and funders encourage the use of a similar tool called the Correctional Program Checklist (CPC). The CPC was actually developed from the CPAI by researchers at the University of Cincinnati Corrections Institute, building on further evidence and insights researchers gained as they used the CPAI.
There is robust evidence-based models for corrections programs. Research shows that fidelity to these models is strongly correlated with recidivism reduction outcomes. So, the CPAI and the CPC focus on assessing how closely correctional programs meet these known principles of effective interventions.
Implementing Evidence-Based Corrections Programs
Acing your CPAI or CPC evaluation means making sure your programs are implemented with fidelity to evidence-based models. To that end, the UCCI experts recommend a four-phase approach:
Phase I: Program Assessment and Design
Whether you’re working to improve existing programs or building a new program from the ground up, the implementation process actually begins with the assessment tool. For existing programs, you can use the CPAI or CPC to identify which program components reflect evidence-based practices and which may not. You can also identify which program components are effective and which need to be redesigned.
This assessment should include a thorough review of program materials. Review manuals, policies, procedures, and protocols. Spend time looking at every aspect of your program in light of the assessment criteria. The goal is to identify where there is a need to redesign the program, where there might be a need to change the way it is being implemented, and what is working and should be left alone or expanded. For new programs, the assessment tool should inform the initial program design process and can help you anticipate challenges.
You should also take time to assess your current data collection practices and systems. Now is the best time to discover the gaps in your data collection so you can upgrade, customize or refine your system. Also, the more seamlessly you can integrate data collection system with case management, the less cumbersome it will be in the long run.
Once the initial assessment is complete, spend time rethinking and redesigning the program to align with what you’ve discovered. For new programs, the assessment tool should inform the initial program design process and can help you anticipate challenges. While this can feel like a huge task, often small changes make a huge impact down the road.
Phase II: Training
Makie sure your staff has the training they need to implement evidence-based program components. The most effective corrections programs are built around the Risk-Need-Response (RNR) Model. The goal of an RNR model is to determine each individual’s risk of recidivism, identify what needs to be addressed to reduce that risk, and then implement interventions that can address those needs.
But first, your staff needs certain skills and understanding to implement program components under each area of RNR:
Risk – Categorize participants as Low, Medium, High, or Very High risk. Train staff on what factors to assess, and how to consistently and correctly use assessment tools. Make sure you include training on how to capture these assessments and factors in your case management software or system.
Need – Identify and target “criminogenic needs.” Train staff to understand and identify characteristics, traits, problems, or issues of an individual that directly relate to the individual’s likelihood to commit another crime. Again, make sure they understand how to use proper evaluation tools and how to record their assessment in your case management system.
Response – Tailor interventions to fit the learning styles, motivation, and strengths of the individuals. Train staff on behavior theories and application of evidence-based interventions. Make sure they understand how individual guidelines and requirements connect to the underlying theory and model. Also, train staff how to identify, define, and record individual adaptations and needs.
This training and preparation phase is a good time to assess your current case management system and customize the system to reinforce and support adherence to evidence-based practices being taught in training.
Phase III: Implementation/Coaching
Once your staff is trained, you can begin implementing new or redesigned program components. Where possible, your implementation timeline should include formal pilot periods. Piloting program elements gives staff time to work out logistics. It also allows you to identify and address challenges early in the process before investing significant time and resources.
Coaching is a valuable opportunity to reinforce training as staff moves from theory to practice. Relying on initial training alone can result in gaps between evidence-based practices and program activities. In the same way that piloting programs creates space for testing and refining the program as a whole, individual and team coaching helps staff internalize training and develop good habits and practices. When possible, staff should have opportunities to observe hands-on modeling paired with observation and feedback.
Phase IV: Quality Assurance
Once the programs or changes have been implemented, it’s time to integrate ongoing quality assurance measures. Turn your training and coaching focus to your supervisors. They will already have management skills and training on program requirements, but now that the program is being executed in real life, reinforce their ability to make sure the program continues to function as designed.
Quality Assurance also involves identifying and tracking key performance metrics. This includes tracking intermediate outcomes and using ongoing evaluation tools like client satisfaction surveys and staff evaluations. Make sure these tools reflect the priorities of the program and align with the criteria in the CPAI or CPC. And, of course, make sure to integrate this information with individual case management data and metrics. This will allow you to get a broad view of your program’s performance with simple, straight-forward periodic reports.
With the right approach and the right tools, any organization can ace their correctional program assessment. Social Solutions is here to support you every step of the way!