Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM) Initiative


In 2008, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) launched the Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM) initiative. Its overarching goal was the creation and implementation of a framework designed to improve justice system outcomes through collaborative partnerships and a shared vision. The initiative is grounded in more than three decades of research on the factors that contribute to recidivism and the methods that justice systems can employ to interrupt the cycle of crime.

Our Approach

EBDM is a strategic and deliberate method of applying empirical knowledge and research-supported principles to justice system decisions made at the case, agency, and system levels. The EBDM Framework posits that public safety outcomes will be improved when justice system stakeholders engage in collaborative partnerships, use research to guide their work across justice system decision points, and work together to achieve community well-being, more efficient use of tax dollars, and fewer victims.

EBDM is guided by A Framework for Evidence-Based Decision Making in State and Local Criminal Justice Systems, which is based on four principles:

  1. The professional judgment of justice system decision-makers is enhanced when informed by evidence-based knowledge.
  2. Every interaction within the justice system offers an opportunity to contribute to harm reduction.
  3. Systems achieve better outcomes when they operate collaboratively.
  4. The justice system will continually learn and improve when professionals make decisions based on the collection, analysis, and use of data and information.

In August 2010, NIC selected seven communities to pilot the Framework. NIC, in partnership with CEPP, provided guidance and technical assistance to these communities and, based upon their success, in 2015 expanded the initiative to an additional 21 teams in three states, including three state-level policymaking teams.

CEPP and our partners operationalized the Framework by working with project sites to establish high-functioning teams; understand, through training and technical assistance efforts, the body of social science research on improving justice system outcomes; understand current practices and identify opportunities for improvement; develop strategic plans for advancing work on selected change targets; develop and analyze performance measures to gauge whether intended outcomes were occurring; develop and carry out communication strategies, and build sustainability and scaling up plans.

The Impact

With CEPP’s technical assistance, the seven EBDM pilot sites achieved significant accomplishments, including the following: 

  • Charlottesville/Albermarle County, Virginia, implemented an actuarial assessment tool in the regional jail, which led to expanded programming to address the most commonly assessed criminogenic needs and a more strategic use of jail resources.
  • Eau Claire County, Wisconsin, implemented a diversion program for people at low risk of recidivism. In its first four years, more than 1,000 people were diverted, with recidivism rates significantly lower than those of a control group with similar charges who were not diverted.
  • Grant County, Indiana, developed a data dashboard that helped stakeholders make more effective decisions around change targets.
  • Mesa County, Colorado, reformed its pretrial process—adopting a validated pretrial risk assessment to inform pretrial release decisions, bond conditions, and supervision level. These efforts resulted in a significant shift away from release on cash/surety bonds to release on recognizance, without a reduction in public safety rates.
  • Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, conceived of a new research-based approach to sentencing and probation called “dosage probation,” which suggests that the length of supervision should be determined by the number of hours of intervention necessary to reduce risk as opposed to a standard probation term. Results were promising and led to additional pilot sites both in and outside of Wisconsin.
  • Ramsey County, Minnesota, developed structured responses to pretrial violations, allowing pretrial agents to respond to violations in ways that consider the person’s risk level and the seriousness of the violation.
  • Yamhill County, Oregon, began conducting case analyses to inform sentencing—using information from assessments to help identify people who could be safely managed in the community. This process has been replicated in additional Oregon counties.