Preparing for Innovation

Innovations in corrections often sweep into vogue promising to change offender behavior and make a significant impact on recidivism through cost effective simple solutions. Generally, broad claims of success are made by the original program designers, which in turn inspires the quick implementation of similar programs in other jurisdictions with little, if any evidence showing that the program truly works. Innovative programs that are quickly adopted in new jurisdictions are often altered to meet localized conditions that are generally not prepared to implement the program, yet are expected to produce positive results. In the rush to begin the program, little consideration is given to the many barriers to implementation that need to be resolved prior to beginning the program.

Research shows that challenges to implementation are many and can be detrimental if policy makers do not prepare the various stakeholders to receive the innovation. Implementation barriers often include insufficient staff, inadequate funding, poor intra-agency communication, turf battles, staff turnover, agency regulations or policies, inadequate community services, resistance from line staff or supervisors, and inadequate training regarding the core goals and program design. Oftentimes, implementation is also hampered by barriers to participant enrollment, such as overly stringent eligibility criteria, transfer policies that disrupt participation, inadequate screening, and cumbersome data management systems. It is not uncommon for a new program to be funded and implemented and only then to discover that it is practically inoperable because of structural barriers or a lack of eligible participants.

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