From the Mainstream to the Margins and Back: A Historical Look at Evaluation Research

Katherine Irwin, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Meda Chesney-Lind, University of Hawaii at Manoa

In the past decade, crime prevention and intervention efforts have relied upon researchers to evaluate, identify, and disseminate a collection of programs that are effective in preventing, reducing, and controlling crime. The effect has been the development of numerous "model" or "best practices" programs that are assumed to provide state of the art strategies. This paper will critically examine the recent trend to identify and deliver "research based programs" by tracing the popularization, stigmatization, and re-popularization of "science-based" programs from the 1930s to the early 2000s. Where many might contend that the current popularity of evaluation research is evidence of the development of superior programs, the authors argue that the favorable relationship between science and program development has more to do with paradigm shifts within social science and criminal justice fields than it does with the effectiveness of particular approaches to crime prevention. The authors offer several cautionary statements regarding evaluation research designed to avoid some of the pitfalls of the past.

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Updated 05/20/2006