The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative in Iowa


In May 2011, Tom Ferguson, chair of the Iowa Public Safety Advisory Board, and fellow board members invited the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative to partner with them to establish a cost-benefit model customized to examine policies and procedures in the state’s criminal justice system. The Legislature created the safety board in 2011, and it is staffed by the Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning within the Department of Human Rights. It reports its analyses and recommendations to the  Legislature.


At the request of the board, the Iowa Department of Corrections, or DOC, developed the Iowa Results First model for adult criminal justice programs and policies. Led by Director of Research Lettie Prell, DOC analyzed adult criminal justice programming within institutions as well as community-based programs for high-risk probationers and for individuals released from prison.

The Iowa Public Safety Advisory Board has used the Iowa Results First model to estimate the costs and benefits associated with implementing alternative sentencing strategies and reinvesting projected taxpayer savings in effective programming.

Cost-benefit findings

DOC’s analysis showed that some programs provided to prisoners and probationers are better investments for Iowa than others. For example, drug treatment programs in prison and in the community yield a little over $8 in benefits for every dollar invested. In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy is a relatively inexpensive program to operate in Iowa and returns about $35 in benefits for every dollar invested. At the other end of the spectrum, DOC found that the domestic violence perpetrator treatment programs were “a waste of taxpayer dollars” and estimated the state lost about $3 for every dollar invested in them.

In its report, DOC noted, “Using the Results First model, a nationally recognized, peer-reviewed tool developed by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP), the Department of Corrections has calculated the rate of return on investment for Iowa adult offender programs for each program area included in the model.

Policy impact

Based on the Results First analysis, the department is expanding the use of cognitive behavioral therapy programs, such as Thinking for a Change and Controlling Anger and Learning to Manage It, or CALM, and looking for ways to reduce other activities accordingly. DOC has been selected to receive technical assistance from the National Institute of Corrections to deliver Thinking for a Change facilitator training to institutional staff.

In order to improve the cost-effectiveness of its domestic violence perpetrator treatment program, DOC partnered with the University of Iowa to pilot alternative curricula for domestic abusers, known as Achieving Change Through Value-Based Behavior, or ACTV. This new program is under evaluation. At the August 2013 annual convening of the American Psychological Association, preliminary findings were presented indicating that men in the program had significantly lower rates of recidivism compared with those in the control program.

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