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Evidence, Ideology, and Politics in the Making of American Criminal Justice Policy

42 Crime & Justice, Forthcoming

Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13-52

19 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2013  

Michael Tonry

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law

Date Written: October 3, 2013

Abstract

The development of a large and productive community of criminal justice programs, scholars, and researchers in the United States since the 1970s has not led to the emergence of a general norm of evidence-based policy making. Nor on many subjects have accumulations of improved knowledge had much influence. On a few they have. The two best examples of influence are policing and early childhood prevention programs. Concerning policing, a plausible story can be told of an iterative process of research showing that police practices and methods do and do not achieve sought-after results, followed by successive changes in how policing is done. Concerning early childhood programs, a conventional scientific process of hypothesis testing and repeated pilot projects with strong evaluations led to widespread adoption of improved programs and techniques. Concerning sentencing, sanctioning policies, firearms and violence, and drug policy, by contrast, strong bodies of accumulating evidence have consistently been ignored. Correctional rehabilitation research is a hybrid. Eclipsed in the 1970s by a gloomy view that “nothing works,” research on correctional treatment in the 1980s and 1990s demonstrated that a wide variety of programs can improve offenders’ lives and reduce reoffending. The findings have influenced the development of reentry and other programs that focus primarily on risk classification and reduction of recidivism rates, but only incidentally on addressing offenders’ social welfare needs.

Keywords: evidence-based policy, research utilization, policing, sentencing, drug policy, guns and violence, rehabilitation

Suggested Citation

Tonry, Michael, Evidence, Ideology, and Politics in the Making of American Criminal Justice Policy (October 3, 2013). 42 Crime & Justice, Forthcoming ; Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13-52. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2335702

Michael Tonry (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law ( email )

229-19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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