What Gets Measured Gets Done: The Essential Role of Performance Measurement in Justice Reinvestment

imgres-18Once a state begins implementing justice reinvestment policies, how does it know if those policies are actually working? The answer: performance measurement, a process by which a state tracks and analyzes data to inform decisions and increase the likelihood of long-term justice reinvestment success.

States that work with the Council of State Governments Justice Center on justice reinvestment must, at a minimum, build a spreadsheet that captures essential correctional metrics such as admissions, releases, and average daily population. This is just a starting point, though, and good performance measurement requires far more detailed data collection and analysis. States can design effective performance measurement systems by modifying their existing data systems or creating new data systems, and by expanding staff capacity.

Modifying existing data systems

Certain states have decided to incorporate justice reinvestment metrics into their existing correctional databases. In West Virginia, for instance, new justice reinvestment policies require that individuals who violate the conditions of their parole or probation spend up to either 60 or 120 days in confinement. As a result of this new requirement, the state’s Department of Corrections and Division of Probation Services have both modified their existing data systems so they can track the type of sanction (whether 60 or 120 days), the reason for the sanction, and how much of the sanction an individual has served.

Creating new data systems

Other states have developed entirely new data systems to accommodate the need for performance measurement. North Carolina, for example, has designed a sophisticated adult corrections database that reports on roughly 100 metrics related to a broad range of justice reinvestment policies, including the number of people receiving supervision after release from prison and the number served by the state’s treatment program for people on supervision. The publicly accessible system is interactive, too: users can specify both the metrics and time period for which they want data. Pennsylvania is also developing an interactive and publicly accessible database for justice reinvestment performance measurement. It plans to use graphics to depict data on, for instance, the use of alternatives to incarceration for technical parole violators, and the length of stay from parole approval to actual release, and how many people with short minimum sentences are diverted to county jails. This interactive dashboard also uses law enforcement, courts, jail, and probation data, making it a truly comprehensive online view of the criminal justice system.

Expanding staff capacity

Dedicating staff specifically to the process can make a big difference for states committed to performance measurement. The Kansas Sentencing Commission has assigned a full-time research analyst to track implementation of the state’s justice reinvestment legislation, House Bill 2170. That law allows, for example, that in lieu of revocation, individuals who violate conditions of their parole and probation can spend short periods in jail (2 or 3 days in most cases; 120 or 180 days for more serious violations). The Sentencing Commission’s new researcher will, among many other responsibilities, collect data related to this new policy, such as tracking by county the technical violations that result in short jail sanctions and assessing regional variation. Each month, key justice reinvestment data will be compiled and presented to stakeholders including the governor.

Bottom line: states can take different paths to the same essential destination:  ensuring the long-term success of their justice reinvestment efforts through a commitment to effective performance measurement.