Evidence-based practice in the field of delinquency prevention has come a long way in the last 15 years in the United States. This progress has been aided by several leading organizations and researchers providing authoritative and up-to-date lists of what works, the application of cost–benefit models, and some political leaders championing this movement over “get tough” practices. State governments are on the cutting edge of this movement, providing leadership, infrastructure, and funding for local efforts. This article reports on the first study to examine the ways that state governments are promoting and supporting the use of evidence-based practice. Case studies of seven early adopter states show a modest yet growing investment in several brand name evidence-based programs, including Functional Family Therapy (FFT), Multisystemic Therapy (MST), and Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC). To support these programs, numerous efforts stand out across the seven states, including special funding, risk assessment guidance and support, assistance in needs assessment and program selection, and program evaluation.
The experiences of the two most progressive states—Connecticut and Pennsylvania—offer many lessons for policy makers and practitioners in other states. Evidence-based practice should begin with bringing together a collaborative group, representing all key stakeholders, for the purpose of identifying needs and selecting programs to support. States also should consider establishing evidence-based centers, which can provide training and technical assistance to county agencies, and report to stakeholders on the performance of programs along with their impacts on crime and correctional costs within the state. At some point, many states will find it necessary to design and evaluate programs tailored to their own special needs, or to evaluate the application of proven programs to populations different from those covered in the original research.
The positive experiences and reaction to the rollout of evidence-based programs in early adopter states suggests that state and county agencies can develop the expertise to make effective use of such programs by adopting the strategies and methods that have already been developed for that purpose. With a growing knowledge base and much promise on the horizon, state and local governments and practitioners should be cautiously optimistic about the potential of evidence-based practice in delinquency prevention.