Testimony at a recent legislative hearing is raising eyebrows — or at least it should be.
Speaking before the Arkansas Legislative Recidivism Reduction Task Force last week, Dr. Tabrina Bratton spoke about the efficacy of the state's recidivism programs. Bratton serves as Quality Improvement and Program Evaluation Administrator for the Arkansas Department of Corrections.
Bratton and her team have been evaluating many of the state's recidivism programs since she joined the department in late 2020. And according to her findings, the state's programs are not evidence-based:
As an applied researcher in the department it's my job to assess the extent to which our programs and services adhere to the scientific literature or evidence-based practices. So since I started in late 2020, my team and I have evaluated several programs including our sex offender programs for male and females, our substance use programs, reentry services programs, and programs for just general re-offending, anti-social cognitions.
Our assessments take an in-depth look at data, the content of the programs, delivery, staff, how people are placed in the programs, the assessment tools used in the program and before, what they target, and everything that the empirical literature says is needed to make an evidence-based program evidence-based because we can't just pick and choose. You need all of it for it to be an evidence-based program. So regardless of which program we've assessed, the findings have been the same and that is they're not evidence-based.
Bratton also noted that the Protect Arkansas Act, passed in 2023, seeks to correct some of these issues:
...I can tell you that our programs right now are not evidence-based but last year there were a lot of changes in the corrections realm in Arkansas. In January we got a new secretary in the spring. The Protect Act was passed both of which made implementing evidence-based practices mandatory so it was no longer optional.
Bratton said her team is also continuing work on an initiative started by Secretary of Corrections Joe Profiri that is a more individualized approach, based on specific inmate needs.
Bratton's full comments are available here:
Kudos to Dr. Bratton for being willing to give the public an honest assessment of what's going on behind prison walls and how these programs are failing to meet scientific standards.
But these revelations are also fairly troubling. Arkansas taxpayers spend a good chunk of change on these recidivism programs — and they spend even more when these programs fail and inmates re-offend. Unfortunately, Arkansas has long been plagued with high rates of recidivism, hovering somewhere around 50 percent.
We'll have more to say about our failing recidivism programs in the coming days, but in the meantime, add this to the never-ending list of policy and management failures at the hands of the Arkansas Board of Corrections.