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Evidence-Based Practice in Los Angeles County Corrections: A Top-Five List of Real-World Foes
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Submitted by Brian Center, Unit Commander, Community Transition Unit, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles, California, for the 2007 LJN Exchange.

Man jumping hurdleOne of my goals—and passions—is to bring evidence-based practice to the world of crime prevention and intervention. There is such great potential for changing the attitude, behavior, and circumstances of people headed for, or cycling through, the justice system. Research shows that we could rescue so many families and communities from the devastation of violence, drug abuse, unemployment, and hopelessness if we were just to do things right. We could save billions of taxpayer dollars in the process.

This is especially true in the world of reentry. It begs the question: Why are we as a society not following the research? Why do we continue to invest in efforts that have always failed and are guaranteed to fail in the future?

One answer is that the real world is messy. A recent scene in my office is an example. At around 8:00 p.m. on a Tuesday evening, a 27-year-old inmate who was about to be released from jail asked, for the first time, for help from the Community Transition Unit (CTU), a small unit in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that provides transitional services for inmates. Within 2 hours, the inmate was in a taxicab headed to a small apartment that housed three other men. (There were no services attached to basic housing arranged by the CTU.) He was driven to an office the next day to sign up for General Relief benefits, including $221 per month.

The CTU does not have the staff for any significant follow-up case management, and we are actually prohibited by law from providing it. I have no idea what happened to that former inmate, but we hope our support gave him the break he needed to start a new life.

Evidence-based practice? Clearly not. The best we could do given the real-world circumstances? Clearly yes.

Several obstacles may stand in the way of corrections agencies seeking to implement evidence-based practice. Recognizing them tells us where to start. In order of increasing importance, they are:

#5 - Hierarchy of needs
#4 - Funding
#3 - Logistical and systemic hurdles
#2 - Bureaucracy
#1 - Capability

Posted Tue, Jan 25 2011 4:48 PM by Connie Clem


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