A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Novel Research Unshackles Traditional Operations Behind Bars

By Jason Jacks on October 7, 2009

With more than eight million adults incarcerated or under some form of supervision in the United States, prisons and supervising agencies are under more pressure than ever before to improve operations.

Faye Taxman, a professor in the Administration of Justice Department at Mason, has focused on informing corrections decision makers about the latest evidence-based practices or behavioral techniques that empirical research has shown produces statistically significant results.

One study conducted by Taxman and her colleagues found the need for correctional systems to implement such strategies as redefining how officers and offenders interact. Such techniques would create a social learning environment encouraging offenders to become productive citizens. It also would represent a shift away from a more traditional and authoritarian approach.

Other research conducted by Taxman and her colleagues revealed that only about one-third of the offenders ordered to seek drug treatment services actually needed them. From this, Taxman was able to suggest the use of standardized assessments so authorities could help channel scarce funding into the right avenues.

Taxman believes if money is going to be spent, it might as well be spent wisely.

“From a public policy perspective, we’re investing a lot in the correctional system without knowing it,” she says. “There are other ways of dealing with people who are antisocial…but the way that we’ve been doing it is not the most effective, and it is certainly not the most cost effective.”

–Devon Madison

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