A Framework for Evidence-Based Decision Making in State and Local Criminal Justice Systems

The National Institute of Corrections (NIC), in partnership with the Center for Effective Public Policy, built the Evidence -Based Decision Making Initiative (EBDM) initiative to create game-changing criminal justice system reform. 

EBDM is a strategic and deliberate method of applying empirical knowledge and research-supported principles to justice system decisions made at the case, agency, and system level and seeks to equip criminal justice  local and state policymakers with the information, processes, and tools that will result in measurable reductions of pretrial misconduct, post-conviction reoffending, and other forms of community harm resulting from crime.


Evidence-based decision making (EBDM) is the practice of using research findings to inform and guide decisions across the justice system. Some examples of such decisions include:

  • Local law enforcement officers use objective data to inform the cite/release decision.
  • Validated risk and needs assessment is applied at each decision point: prosecutors, defenders and judges will use this information to determine whether pretrial release is appropriate, and use need assessment data to identify individualized risk reduction strategies for those who are sentenced.
  • Jail staff provide reentry programming; community corrections staff supervise individuals based upon risk level and provide services designed to reduce risk of reoffense
  • Local and State officials can fund programs that research demonstrates to be effective in reducing risk of recidivism—and eliminate programs that research has proven to be ineffective.


Phases of NIC’s Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM) initiative:

  • Phase I Framework Development: Project partners worked with NIC and a multidisciplinary advisory committee to develop the Framework, with the intent to define risk and harm reduction as fundamental goals of the justice system, summarize the strongest of the evidence-based research, and outline a structure and set of principles for achieving EBDM in local justice systems. Read more
  • Phase II Planning Process: The initiative competitively selected and worked with seven sites as they engaged in a planning process to prepare to implement their local interpretation of the Framework. Their implementation plans were submitted to NIC in June 2011. Read more
  • Phase III Implementation: Since August 2011, NIC has provided support to all seven sites in Phase III. Read more
  • Phase IV Expansion to Statewide Structure: In September 2013, NIC entered into a cooperative agreement with the Center for Effective Public Policy to expand EBDM to the state level. Work under this phase of the Initiative includes the provision of technical assistance and the development of tools and protocols to expand EBDM to additional local counties and to state level policy groups within those states with existing EBDM local sites. In support of this work, NIC and the Center partnered with officials in the State of Wisconsin to develop and pilot a statewide Summit on EBDM in January 2014. The purpose of the EBDM Summit was to pilot test the Initiative’s state-level protocols. Read more about the results of the Summit.
  • Phase V Building EBDM Capacity at the Individual, Agency, and System Levels: In Phase V, states will begin the process of planning systemwide change strategies to achieve evidence-based decision making (EBDM) at the state level and in multiple local jurisdictions. Read more