The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative in Mississippi

Note: This page was updated in May 2020 and November 2017 to reflect the state’s progress in using evidence-based policymaking.

Background

In December 2012, Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves (who is now governor) and House Speaker Philip Gunn extended a formal partnership invitation to the Results First initiative. As chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee, Reeves and Gunn intended to use the Results First model to support their broader goal of strengthening a performance-based budgeting system in the state. They selected the chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees, Herb Frierson (now retired) and Eugene “Buck” Clarke, to lead the efforts in their chambers. Representative Toby Barker and Senator Terry Burton were tasked with assisting the chairmen in developing a strategic planning framework for the state, beginning with the identification of statewide performance indicators for eight key policy areas.

Implementation

Staff members from the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) make up the core of the technical team implementing the Results First approach. PEER is well-suited for this role because it routinely conducts performance evaluations, investigations, and expenditure reviews of state agencies to support the Legislature in its oversight role and to make state government more effective, efficient, and accountable. Linda Triplett, director of PEER’s performance accountability office, oversees the technical team implementing Results First.

The technical team began implementing the criminal justice component of the Results First model in January 2013. In July 2014, the team completed the initial implementation of the adult criminal justice component and released a detailed report that included cost-benefit analysis of programs provided by the Department of Corrections. The PEER team also built an inventory of the state’s early education programs and had initiated similar work with the Department of Child Protection Services and the Department of Health. Most recently, PEER released reports that included comprehensive inventories of the state’s adult prison-based programs and programs for youth in the Oakley Youth Development Center, Mississippi’s sole residential facility for court-committed juveniles.

Findings

PEER’s original analysis of adult criminal justice programs examined the Regimented Inmate Discipline (RID) program, a boot camp-style shock incarceration intervention that research suggests is ineffective at reducing recidivism. After more recent and comprehensive reviews of prison-based programs, PEER also determined that six of the programs in Mississippi’s inventory—accounting for about 68% of total estimated direct expenditures—are shown by high-quality research to be effective in reducing recidivism. In fiscal year 2016, approximately $1.3 million was spent on programs for which there is no known high-quality research showing their effectiveness in reducing recidivism. Among the programs in Mississippi’s inventory supported by high-quality research, Thinking for a Change (a cognitive behavioral therapy program for high- and moderate-risk incarcerated individuals) is projected to be most cost-beneficial. 

In 2018, PEER conducted a similar review of juvenile justice intervention programs at the Oakley Youth Development Center. PEER found that while most of the center’s programs were supported by high-quality research, nearly one-third (31%) of the center’s programs could be replaced with evidence-based alternatives.

Policy impact

Mississippi’s Legislature has taken an active role in ensuring that the Results First analysis is translated into meaningful policy application. In 2015, the Legislature repealed the Department of Corrections’ authority to operate RID and prohibited the future sentencing of state-incarcerated individuals to such programs, given the research indicating its ineffectiveness. The state replaced the intervention with the evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy Thinking for a Change. The Legislature also passed laws requiring that state agencies develop program inventories, which catalog agency programs and activities, and indicate to what degree those are backed by evidence (“evidence-based,” “research-based,” “promising,” or other). The departments of corrections, education, health, and transportation serve as the initial agencies undertaking these inventory efforts. Although the inventories cover broader aspects of the budget than those associated with Results First, a subsection of the inventories is intended to align with the initiative’s approach.

Subsequently, Senator Burton and Barker, now the mayor of Hattiesburg, developed a screening checklist—called the Seven Elements of Quality Program Design—in consultation with PEER staff. This checklist helps determine whether funding requests for new programs, or new activities proposed as part of existing programs, are supported by research that demonstrates their effectiveness. Each part of the checklist contains multiple questions that must be answered thoroughly to achieve a positive recommendation from legislative staff, including questions on the program’s premise, evidence of effectiveness, and plan for monitoring implementation and measuring outcomes.

Following PEER’s juvenile justice program inventory report, the Oakley Youth Development Center replaced programs that are not supported by research with more effective alternatives. The center began implementing Aggression Replacement Training, a cognitive-behavioral therapy to manage anger and reduce aggressive behavior. The PEER report identified this program as an effective option for treating youth with a history of violent and antisocial behavior.

Next steps

Mississippi leaders and staff members plan to continue assessing additional agency programming using Results First tools. The team also plans to work with the Legislature and agency leadership to increase the use of evidence-based programming that adheres to research design to ensure optimal program outcomes.

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