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Evidence-Based Decision Making

November 2015

One of the more interesting recent developments in the area of criminology involves the implementation of evidence-based decision making. Thanks to a special program with the National Institute of Corrections, this practice is coming to the Fox Valley. Outagamie County was recently chosen as one of 22 counties nationwide to begin implementing the practice of making evidence-based decisions at various points in a criminal investigation. One of the most important phases of this process is the use of actuarial methods for indicating recidivism patterns. For several years, the NIC and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections have been amassing data as it relates to how the justice system deals with offenders. They have used this data to identify the factors that most often indicate whether a person will commit another offense in the future. The results have shown that certain factors in a person’s life can help predict a person’s risk to reoffend as being low, medium, or high. That risk level can then be used by an officer, prosecutor, defense attorney, or judge when determining how the offender should be treated.


An example of the implementation of these procedures would occur in the following scenario: An officer responds to a call concerning a subject who is disorderly at a house. This officer will still have to investigate whether or not a crime occurred. If the officer determines that a crime has been committed, the officer will have to determine whether or not the offender will need to be placed under arrest or if the case could be dealt with by requiring that an offender attend court at a later date. Utilizing evidence-based decision making procedures, the officer would inquire about such factors as the age at which the offender incurred their first arrest and the number of previous arrests that the offender has. Among some other information, the officer would be able to determine that person’s risk level as either low, medium, or high. This risk level would then aid the officer in determining whether or not the offender should be taken into custody or if they should be released. Because exposing a low risk offender to incarceration can actually increase their chance of committing a crime in the future, the officer now has the tools available to identify low risk offenders and treat them appropriately. As the case progresses through the court system, other, more detailed factors would be reviewed by members of the criminal justice system in determining the offender’s risk to re-offend and the appropriate response or punishment.


The goal of these programs is to provide additional tools to the entire criminal justice system in order to provide the proper response or punishment based upon each offender’s risk level. Low risk offenders could be diverted into programming other than formal probation and jail or prison and therefore avoid the problems that occur when low risk offenders are mixed with medium or high risk offenders.


Throughout this process, a defense attorney will play a crucial role in helping a person navigate these new procedures. A competent advocate is best positioned to help someone charged with a crime prepare a vigorous defense and also help them benefit from the new procedures which can offer alternatives to formal probation or incarceration.

Attorney Travis Schreurs

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As always, seek the advice of a qualified legal professional regarding any legal issues you may have. You should not disregard professional advice or refrain from seeking professional advice because of anything contained in this article. The information contained herein is general and educational in nature. Because each case is different and each legal analysis is customized for individual clients, the information contained in this article should never be used to determine your legal rights.

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