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Bridging the Research/Practice Gap: Street-Level Decision Making and Historical Influences Related to Evidence-Based Practices in Adult Probation

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Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2014, $31,791)

Growing empirical research finds that a correctional system devoted to punishment is ineffective and can actually result in criminogenic effects (Nagin, Cullen & Johnson, 2009). As a result, many justice organizations, including probation, are encouraging managers and staff to adopt evidence-based practices (EBPs)--practices supported by scientific evidence, such as validated risk and needs assessments, motivational interviewing, and cognitive-behavioral therapies. Current research finds that when used appropriately, evidenced-based, rehabilitative interventions are effective at reducing recidivism (Andrews & Bonta, 2010) and improving overall probation success (Taxman, 2008). Despite this push, justice organizations have been particularly slow to adopt and implement effective practices that can best serve their clients. Implementation of EBPs falls heavily on the street-level workers, like POs as they adopt/adapt and implement policy and practice changes by incorporating them into routines and decisions. Over the last decade, a substantial body of research documents and analyzes the role of street-level bureaucrats within criminal justice organizations in policy implementation and decision-making processes. Beginning with Lipsky's (1980) foundational work, street-level bureaucracy theory describes street-level workers as front-line policy interpreters with primarily responsibility for policy implementation. Following this framework, other scholars note the prevalence of discretionary decision making present in street-level work (e.g., Feldman 1992; Maynard-Moody and Musheno, 2000) that affects the interpretation and implementation of new policies. At a critical time for the criminal justice system, characterized by large prison populations and mounting financial strain, EBPs have the potential to improve the system and better serve offenders and communities. However, these beneficial effects are dependent on street-level workers, decisions when carrying out EBPs. Previous research documents the challenge of changing practices within correctional environments, characterized by a punitive, control-oriented culture, towards rehabilative strategies, despite evidence that punitive strategies are ineffective and potentially harmful (e.g., Battalino et la., 1996; Ferguson, 2002; Rudes, 2012). Through a mixed method approach (ethnography, interviews and surveys), this study builds upon traditional street-level decision-making literature, but broadens the scope of inquiry by critically examining how POs understand, define and adapt new practices to their existing organizational routines. Further, this dissertation seeks to examine the conditions under which POs make adaptations to policy and the role that organizational culture and the history of the organization plays in shaping adaptation decisions, which ultimately play a critical role in the way in which POs carry out their job and policies designed to improve probation practice and outcomes. ca/ncf

Date Created: September 14, 2014