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Textbook: Vito, G. F., & Higgins, G. E. (2015). Practical program evaluation for criminal justice. Waltham, MA: Elsevier. ISBN: 9781455777709.
Evaluations in Criminal Justice
Evaluations of criminal justice programs can take many forms. However, evaluations are generally classified in two main formats: process and implementation and those that look at program effects (National Research Council, 2005). In each type of evaluation, it is essential to remember that programs are designed to correct a specific problem and answer a particular need (Vito & Higgins, 2015). According to Vito and Higgins (2015), assumptions on a program’s outcome must be associated with a theory that predicts a cause and effect. The author of the evaluation must be particular in defining the parameters of the assessment. Consideration must be given to the fact that theory is about probability; it is not about certainty. Kenneth N. Waltz identifies this point in an interview given at the University of California, Berkley, on February 10, 2003, in which he advises that theories are good at describing what happened in the past and not so good at telling us what will happen in the future (Waltz, 2003).
Process and Implementation Evaluations
Process and implementation evaluations look at how the parts or agencies that make up a program utilize their resources, are the parts or agencies meeting goals implemented to achieve the desired outcome, and whether the different parts work together to achieve the desired effect. A benefit of process and implementation evaluation is that it identifies strengths and weaknesses and best practices to achieve the expected program impacts (Vito & Higgins, 2015). A significant drawback is that these evaluations may not address whether the evaluated program itself can impact the problem it was designed to fix. It is also impossible to account for all variables that may influence the process. An issue with process and implementation is that it is challenging to have randomized controlled experiments.
Policy programs are means by which government attempts to solve issues or change behavior (Dye, 2013). Outcome evaluations are designed to determine if a program impacts the particular problem it was intended to influence (National Research Council, 2005). The positive aspect of outcome evaluation is that it can help determine if a program produces and if it is worth the money being spent to solve a problem. A downside of the outcome evaluation is that it does not necessarily say why a program fails to achieve the desired end state. Another issue is that randomized controlled experiments are not always possible in these evaluations.
Determining if a program impacts a problem based on theory is about determining causation. In theory, causation is about correlation, theoretical rationale, time sequence, and the absence of spuriousness (Bernard et al., 2016). Farrington et al. (2002) discuss using randomized clinical trials (RCT) to establish causation. Yet, RCT can only look at pieces of an issue in time and space. RCT can not answer questions about why crime is committed as there is no one reason for crime (Farrington et al., 2002). RCT is unable to explain why any single individual may commit a crime as each person is unique. This writer is interested in the effectiveness of the California three strikes law and believes that a combination of process and implementation evaluations and outcome evaluations using quantitative and qualitative methods over a more extended period can provide a better examination of an issue and create a better estimate of probability.
Questions for Maryland Scientific Scale
Using the California three strikes law as a program, this writer asks the following questions using the Maryland Scientific Scale levels. For level one, the question to be asked about correlation, does a three-strike law lower crime in one area at a point in time compared to another location without three strikes law? For level two, looking for causal order, the question will be whether the three-strike decrease crime in the same area after the law went into effect? For level three, the question would be, did the three-strike law impact crime during a comparison of before and after the crime in areas that had the three-strike program and one that did not? The question is looking at the applicability of the theory. Level four would ask the impact question for a period before and after implementation of the program in various areas with and without the program but also looking at things such as police presence, economic influences, programs such as crime stoppers, and other policing policies; this looks at the issue of spuriousness. The question in level five would be answered by testing in completely randomized areas and addressing correlation, causation, theory, and spuriousness.
Christian World View
Evaluations are about seeking the truth about a program’s ability to help solve a problem and help people. The research must be honest and truthful in pursuit of the truth. The Bible gives guidance to the importance of the search for the truth. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly diving the word of truth” (New King James Version, 1982, 2 Timothy 2:15). “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (New King James Version, 1982, John 8:32).