Issue Brief

Iowa's Cutting-Edge Approach to Corrections



The Iowa Department of Corrections, or DOC, has a long tradition of using evidence-based principles to prioritize and evaluate programming. But it lacked information about whether alternative programs could reduce recidivism and what their long-term costs and benefits would be. To fill this critical information gap, the department partnered in 2011 with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, or Results First, to build a state-specific cost-benefit analysis model that would enable Iowa policymakers and program administrators to compare programs based on their effectiveness, cost, and expected benefits and use that data to make more informed policy and budget decisions.

The model launched in 2012 and has been used by the state's Department of Corrections to evaluate a number of adult corrections programs and by the Iowa Public Safety Advisory Board to assess the long-term costs and benefits of alternative sentencing practices. To date, Iowa's collaboration with Results First has helped the state to:

  • Calculate and compare the long-term costs and benefits of a portfolio of corrections programs.
  • Target resources to programs shown to maximize the return on investment for the state's residents, including prison-based vocational education programs, which the Results First model projects will return approximately $4 in benefits for every $1 invested.
  • Eliminate an unsuccessful domestic violence program, and replace it with a more effective alternative, improving public safety and shifting funds to a higher-return investment.
  • Identify a more cost-effective probation and parole caseload size.
  • Enable policymakers to consider full program costs and benefits in decision-making.
  • Strengthen Department of Corrections staff commitment to effective programs.

This brief documents Iowa's progress in implementing its Results First model, highlights the accomplishments to date, including customizing the model and reporting its findings to state policymakers to inform legislative and budget discussions, and enumerates next steps the state is considering to expand the usefulness and effectiveness of its cost-benefit model.

Media Contact

Catherine An

Officer, Communications