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Researchers, practitioners and policymakers all face a raft of questions, and the reality of doing research is that a single study is rarely sufficient. Few studies will answer all of the questions surrounding a topic, and most good studies will raise new ones — and sometimes they raise more questions than they answer. As a result, building a body of knowledge on a topic is a complex, dynamic and demanding endeavor. The articles in this issue of the NIJ Journal address the challenge of building and using a body of knowledge from several perspectives:
- Evaluation: The evaluation of the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) involved multiple complex facets. One of the clearest findings was related to the effects of programming on women re-entering the community. The researchers found that although increasing access to programs led to modest improvements in the program focus areas (i.e., employment and drug abuse), women’s high levels of need outstripped the services they received, even when those included SVORI services.
- Replication: NIJ's evaluation of Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) probation program found that HOPE produced positive results, reducing both parole violations and parole revocations. But HOPE has been implemented only in Hawaii. Can the same model work in other jurisdictions? To find out, NIJ and the Bureau of Justice Assistance are joining forces to replicate and evaluate the HOPE model at four sites around the country.
- Growing the body of knowledge: Administrative segregation, or AS — commonly referred to as solitary confinement — has been the subject of relatively little research. The surprising results that emerged from a study in the Colorado prison system, which showed no decline in mental health for prisoners in AS, add to what we know about the effects of AS, but much work remains to be done. The article in this issue also touches on the unique challenges researchers face when conducting research in prisons.
- Finding and using research: Retired police chief Jim Bueermann, who was NIJ's first Executive Fellow in early 2011, encourages other police chiefs to adopt evidence-based practices. "Tremendous resources exist today that can help them craft smart policing strategies," he writes. Among the resources he lists is CrimeSolutions, which debuted last summer and can help practitioners and policymakers discover what research has found about programs in many fields.
As always, I welcome your feedback on the Journal and all of NIJ's products. Your input is critical to our understanding of the "demand" side of research. When you tell us about your information needs and the best way to share that information with you, we are able to develop a more vital research agenda, better communicate our findings, and ultimately produce a stronger body of knowledge on crime and criminal justice practices and policies.
John H. Laub
Director, National Institute of Justice
NIJ Journal No. 269, March 2012