U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

You Get What You Measure: New Performance Indicators Needed to Gauge Progress of Criminal Justice Reform

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2018
8 pages

One in a series of papers being published from the Executive Session on Community Corrections (2013-2017), this paper proposes and explains the features of two new and more nuanced indicators of a fair and effective criminal justice system. 


The author argues that tracking the number of incarcerated persons and those under correctional supervision is essential but not sufficient to know whether progress is being made toward a more fair and effective criminal justice system. The proposed new measures of the effectiveness of the criminal justice system are 1) correctional population composition and 2) recidivism by risk. The measure of correctional population composition would track the profile or composition of the prison and supervision populations to determine what percentage of these populations pose a threat to public safety, as well as to determine how many could safely pay their debt to society in less expensive and more effective ways. The second new performance measure, recidivism by risk, would adjust recidivism rates to account for the changing composition of persons under correctional control. This would help gauge how effective corrections agencies are in reforming individuals across the risk spectrum. It would also guard against perceptions of failure if recidivism rates increase due to a greater percentage of higher risk caseloads rather than diminished performance by corrections agencies. In advocating the implementation of these two additional measures of criminal justice reform, this paper notes that current performance measures are not sufficient to determine whether new policies are more effective than those being replaced. Ways are suggested for incorporating the proposed new performance measures into data collection. 4 references

Date Published: May 1, 2018