The development and execution of any new plan requires a formula or system for measuring success. It is strongly recommended that accurate records be maintained in order to gauge progress and to chart trends. Generally accepted methods of measuring success are anecdotal support and empirical support. While it is true that empirical support and evidence usually carry more clout and credibility, do not underestimate the value of anecdotal support.

In order to make any form of innovative sentencing work, the on-going approval and commitment from judges is essential. Everyone loves a great success story. So, when that “poster-defendant” comes along, don’t be shy about sharing the story. Remember that the goal in accurately measuring success is to scrutinize all facets of the sentencing scheme and this must include a category reserved for “areas for improvement.”

In measuring success or failure, we generally tend to think of recidivism as the ultimate measure. The problem with solely relying on recidivism as a standard measure of success or failure is that it can be defined in so many different ways by different individuals, departments/programs, and jurisdictions. It can be defined as a new arrest, a new conviction, a new violation, a relapse incident, and/or revocation/incarceration. Furthermore, differing timeframes of when a behavior is considered as recidivism can differ as well. While measures of recidivism are important, it is also important for each discipline to develop their own definition of recidivism and measures of success. These measures may differ between offender types, risk levels, etc., but having clearly defined measures of success for all of these areas, outside of only recidivism rates, is fruitful in identifying what is working, and what is not. It may also be helpful to find out what other courts are doing and determine if their programs may be appropriate for implementation in your jurisdiction.

Make good use of the information you gather, keeping in mind the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism, increasing public safety and saving lives. Additionally, positive sentencing outcomes may also reduce first DWI offenses. Sharing the information, particularly outcomes and trends, with strategic partners encourages their future buy-in and cooperation. Victim and special interest groups, coupled with the media, may partner or take the lead in seeking changes in the law or development and funding of needed programs. Efforts regarding staffing levels and budget considerations may also benefit from this information.

For more information, The Department of Health & Human Services has a helpful resource for measuring outcomes.