Performance measurement—establishing metrics for success and assessing results—is a crucial first step in making informed decisions in all areas of government, including criminal justice policy. Understanding the outcomes of funding and policy decisions is critical to improving government performance and providing the best return on taxpayer investments.
Yet, compared with other functions of government, the sentencing and corrections policy debate frequently lacks meaningful performance measures. Too often, policymakers are forced to rely anecdotes and system-level trends when adopting, implementing, and evaluating policies or programs. This is particularly true for assessing the effectiveness of justice agencies at improving public safety.
A number of states, however, have begun to change the way they approach criminal justice policy development and adoption. States participating in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) engage in a data-driven process that targets the drivers of the correctional population and prison costs. As a result, more than 20 states have enacted reforms to reduce correctional spending so that a portion of the savings can be reallocated to programs that improve public safety.
To ensure these policy changes produce their intended effect and sustain those impacts over time, states must incorporate ongoing performance measurement into their implementation strategies. Data-driven decisionmaking should not occur ad-hoc, and it is the responsibility of all three branches of government to oversee the criminal justice system. Many JRI states have responded by creating bipartisan, interbranch commissions charged with regularly reviewing data and making recommendations for improvement (LaVigne et al. 2014).