Just How Innovative are Criminal Justice Systems in the United States?

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Center_for_Court_Innovation croppedHow willing are agency leaders to adopt new ideas and make changes to criminal justice policies and programming? A recently released report from the Center for Court Innovation attempts to answer the question.

The report, “Innovation in the Criminal Justice System: A National Survey of Criminal Justice Leaders,” is the first of its kind. Supported by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, more than 600 agency heads across the country were surveyed for the study, including police chiefs, juvenile justice officials and state court administrators across the nation.

Respondents cumulatively scored a 2.89 on a four-point scale that measured systemic innovation in terms of data sharing and evidence-driven practices.

Data from the survey indicates that 46 percent of respondents always implement evidence-based practices, while an additional 43 percent reported they sometimes do.

Half of respondents reporting their use of evidence-based practices said they used external evaluators to guide their work, and nearly two out of five respondents said they routinely used internal evaluators. Court administrators were among those found to be most likely to implement evaluators. Prosecutors were the least likely to use evaluators.

The most common “barriers to innovation,” according to the survey, are funding, not enough front-line staff support and political or bureaucratic pressure. Researchers found that survey takers who viewed themselves as innovative were likelier than other respondents to have been in charge of a faltering program, having made significant changes to improve a failing program and embraced research-driven practices.

Among the most popular “innovative” practices mentioned by respondents were data sharing, problem-solving courts and intelligence-based practices. In all, 56 percent of respondents said they worked with an innovative agency, and roughly a quarter of respondents described themselves as innovative. Just a third of respondents, however, felt their respective criminal justice field, in general, was a bastion of innovative practices and approaches.


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