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Evaluation of the Multi-Site Demonstration Field Experiment: What Works in Reentry Research (DFE)

Award Information

Award #
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2010, $3,000,000)

The goal of the Demonstration Field Experiment, DFE, is to obtain rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of a carefully designed model that aims to promote successful transitions from prison to the community. Program impacts will be assessed by randomly assigning eligible offenders to either an experimental or control group. Both groups will be followed for at least one year to assess whether significant differences emerge in key outcome areas. In addition to measuring overall impacts, the study will examine impacts for key subgroups, for example, offenders with low and medium/high risk of reoffending, since research has shown that program effects often vary by risk and need level. An initial operational pilot will assess whether the programs are operating with fidelity to the design and are ready for randomization.
A group of site-based research assistants will be responsible for verifying the eligibility of study subjects, obtaining their consent to participate in the study, administering baseline and follow-up surveys conducting random assignment, and ensuring that subjects are referred to the appropriate treatment. The goal of the Demonstration Field Experiment, DFE, is to obtain rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of a carefully designed model that aims to promote successful transitions from prison to the community.
A fidelity monitoring and process study will assess adherence to the program protocol and document the operation of the demonstration programs. Data from program management information systems will be used to measure the dosage of services delivered to the experimental group. Outcome data for both groups will be collected from sample member interviews and administrative records. Criminal justice data on arrests and convictions will be collected.

The total sample size for the study will be dependent on subsequent decisions by the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The proposed target sample is 900 individuals (150 per site) from both research groups for the survey. Program impacts will be assessed by comparing the average outcomes for experimental and control group members. Regression adjustment to increase the power of statistical tests will be used. Subsequent analysis will assess the economic costs and benefits of the interventions.

Subsequent results may lead to the development of theoretically sound reentry strategies, which should serve to advance practice. The value of this study lays in trying to answer the 'what works for whom' question that plagues the field.


MDRC/George Mason University (GMU) were selected by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to conduct the Evaluation of the Multi-site Demonstration Field Experiment: What Works in Reentry Reentry Research (SCA DFE) project in 2010. The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) is funding the programs that will be evaluated. The National Institute of Corrections (NIC), with funding from BJA, is developing the interventions and training parole officers and service providers to deliver them. MDRC/GMU is requesting funding to support the evaluation activities for the SCA DFE in the amount of $1,506,566.

The SCA DFE is targeting individuals who were recently released from prison. The evaluation is using a random assignment design to compare the outcomes of offenders in three conditions: 1) standard supervision; 2) officer training in science-based supervision strategies (called Next Generation, or NG); and 3) officer training in NG, plus Motivational Enhancement Therapy-Thinking for a Change (MET-T4C), a cognitive behavioral program for offenders. The project will operate in three sites, in Colorado, Iowa, and Texas.

The study will target moderate and high risk men, age 18 or older, who are recently released from prison to parole supervision, have at least 12 months remaining on parole, served at least 6 months of incarceration for the presenting offense, and who are not on a specialized parole caseload and do not have a serious mental health or substance abuse problem. Each site will enroll 500 parolees into the study. The evaluation team will follow all three groups of parolees and assess impacts for one year using a combination of participant surveys and administrative data to measure recidivism, desistance, and other intermediate outcomes.

The evaluation will begin with a brief pilot study prior to beginning the formal RCT. The evaluation includes a process study, ongoing fidelity monitoring, and an impact analysis. The analysis will pool data from all three sites to measure program impacts. The study will also assess whether the interventions have different impacts for different types of offenders.

NIC training will occur in late 2014. The three month pilot period will begin in January 2015 and formal study enrollment will begin in April 2015. A final published report on all study findings will be completed in 2018.

Additional funding is needed in order to complete the project due to significant delays in site selection and intervention development, and changes in the design of the project.

Date Created: September 15, 2010