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Iowa's Living Laboratory.

At the heart of a unique effort by Iowa's Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services lies an innovative way to unite research results and practitioner efforts in delivering effective correctional interventions in the community.

Successful corporations that consistently are on the leading edge have strong research and development divisions and are constantly testing and retesting products and services in order to stay ahead of the innovation curve. Probation, until recently, has had neither this mind-set nor the opportunity to test new ideas for effective programs. With advances in "what works" research and the dissemination of research literature through the International Community Corrections Association's (ICCA's) annual research conferences, the publishing of proceedings of the American Correctional Association's (ACA's) conferences and the training seminars organized by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), implementation of these new approaches became a major focus.

In response to this need, ICCA promoted the concept of a laboratory approach that would allow for a closer link between theory and practice to emerge in a climate of evaluation and training. The aim was to create a place in which several programs that research indicates are effective could be implemented and evaluated. It would be a place other interested jurisdictions could visit and experience the programs and see them in action. The living laboratory is an attempt to implement good programs and share the knowledge with as wide an audience as possible.

Good ideas need champions. Gary Hinzman, district director of the Sixth Judicial District of the Iowa Department of Correctional Services, accepted the concept of the laboratory idea and is using it to further his agency's efforts to transform how community corrections is delivered. With the assistance of a highly motivated staff team, Hinzman is using the living laboratory approach to provide three levels of training.

The first level is directed internally to staff of the Sixth Judicial District and prepares them to understand and to implement the principles of the "what works" literature. The second level is geared toward working more closely with other correctional entities in Iowa so that a more effective and efficient use of resources may be achieved. The third level is an attempt to export the idea of a teaching institution and living laboratory to the national level, to foster an arena in which correctional experts can work with practitioners from various jurisdictions. It is the Iowa group's desire to provide not only theory but also the opportunity to learn "what works" from practical experience and direct observation in working with offenders.

Hinzman's effort stresses the value of research, training and evaluation to inform the Sixth Judicial District's philosophy, strategic planning and agency goals as well as its programming efforts. Currently, the Sixth Judicial District's efforts are concentrating on a number of areas it feels show promise in the effective delivery of correctional services to offenders and in the provision of public safety. They include:

* An automated placement and supervision matrix that uses a number of assessments to provide offender profiles, responsive interventions and outcome measures;

* Program evaluation through an application of the Community Program Assessment Inventory to selected programs for quality assurance purposes;

* Developing outcome and process evaluation measures;

* Conducting a staff survey to benchmark attitudes and knowledge and using the information to further the goals of the agency; and

* Developing linkages with universities both locally and nationally to inform and enrich the research, training and evaluation efforts of the laboratory.

There also is a strong emphasis on developing and evaluating program efforts that are directed at specific offender needs. For example, the Sixth Judicial District is attempting to provide programs for offenders who fall into the following categories:

* Substance abuse;

* Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD);

* Dual diagnosis offenders (substance abuse, mental health problems and criminal behavior);

* Career development for offenders through community service and community work programs, including life skills training through a local community college;

* The use of cognitive programs based on what-works research and targeting higher risk offenders for these programs; and

* The exploration of the value of approaches to families that use family systems, family therapy and multisystemic models in their "Partners in Accountability" programs.

Through the laboratory, the Sixth Judicial District also hopes to be able to evaluate other supervision models and program options. These include an interest in community and restorative justice with a strong emphasis on services to victims and the development of place-based probation that includes partnership with local law enforcement and human service providers.

In order to make the laboratory concept effective and to further its goal of providing a forum for the exchange of ideas between and among various jurisdictions and the university community, an advisory committee was formed. The committee is comprised of representatives from the academic community, the American Probation and Parole Association, ICCA, the National Association of Probation Executives, the National Institute of Justice, NIC and Iowa's commissioner of corrections, with representatives from other judicial districts in Iowa. This group has met on site and via conference calls to give advice and direction to the Hinzman team and also provides a means to transport ideas and practices to a wider audience.

As probation practitioners consider ways to reinvent probation and to become more relevant to the public they service, this concept provides one way by which a variety of theories and practices can be evaluated and the results dispersed. The laboratory approach is a way of expanding both our knowledge of what is effective and of helping us discover new approaches to the problem of providing public protection as well as offender rehabilitation.

There still is a long way to go, but this innovative approach is worthy of support and duplication. Staff of the Sixth Judicial District, as well as university researchers will be publishing results and documenting progress regarding this interesting and innovative approach to the integration of theory and practice in the delivery of community correctional services.

Donald G. Evans is president of the board of the Canadian Training Institute in Toronto.
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Author:Evans, Donald G.
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1U4IA
Date:Apr 1, 2000
Words:996
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