Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM) Initiative


In 2008, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) launched the Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM) initiative to create and implement a framework designed to improve criminal justice system outcomes through collaborative partnerships and a shared vision. The initiative is grounded in more than three decades of research on the factors contributing to recidivism and the methods that criminal 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 criminal justice system decisions made at the case, agency, and system levels. The EBDM Framework posits that public safety will be improved when criminal justice system stakeholders engage in collaborative partnerships, use research to guide their work across 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 criminal justice system decision makers is enhanced when informed by evidence-based knowledge
  2. Every interaction within the criminal justice system offers an opportunity to contribute to harm reduction
  3. Systems achieve better outcomes when they operate collaboratively
  4. The criminal justice system will continually learn and improve when professionals make decisions based on collecting, analyzing, and using data and information

In August 2010, NIC selected seven communities to pilot the Framework. In partnership with NIC, CEPP provided guidance and technical assistance to these communities and, based on their successes, 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 criminal 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
  • 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 more strategic use of jail resources.
  • Eau Claire County, Wisconsin, implemented a diversion program for people likely to succeed without further criminal justice system intervention. In its first four years, more than 1,000 people were diverted, with recidivism rates significantly lower than those of a control group who had similar charges but 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 assessment to help inform pretrial release decisions, bond conditions, and level and type of support from pretrial agencies. These efforts resulted in a significant shift away from financial conditions of release to release on recognizance without a reduction in community safety and well-being 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 increase a person’s likelihood of success as opposed to a standard probation term. Results were promising and led to additional pilot sites both in and outside of Wisconsin. Learn more about CEPP’s Dosage Probation work here.
  • Ramsey County, Minnesota, developed structured responses to pretrial violations, allowing pretrial agents to respond to violations in ways that consider the person’s likelihood of success 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 live safely in the community, with support as needed. This process has been replicated in additional Oregon counties.