Incorporating Research and Data into Criminal Justice Operations and Decisionmaking in La Crosse County, Wisconsin


In 2008, the National Institute of Corrections launched the Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM) initiative, offering an innovative method for state and local justice policymakers to better use data and research findings to guide decisionmaking across the criminal justice system. The EBDM approach emphasizes interagency collaboration and the development of jurisdictional research-driven decisions and programming to increase efficiency and enhance public safety.

La Crosse County, Wisconsin was one of eight counties in the state selected to participate in Phase V and VI of the EBDM initiative in 2015. At the direction of its Criminal Justice Management Council EBDM subcommittee, La Crosse County prioritized the development of strategies to improve risk/needs assessment processes, diversion programming, internal and external communications, and consistency and codification of policies and procedures across agencies.

La Crosse County requested assistance from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC) to further disseminate research-driven practices and implementation strategies countywide. The county viewed a train-the-trainer course as the most effective approach for training the selected individuals representing different agencies, who could further circulate research and research-informed practices to their peers and colleagues.


BJA NTTAC identified The Carey Group (TCG), a national consulting firm specializing in public safety with expertise in providing training and technical assistance to justice policymakers, practitioners, and community groups, to develop and deliver the requested training. TCG collaborated with leadership personnel in La Crosse County to develop a customized train-the-trainer curriculum based on the immediate needs of La Crosse County officials.

The training was held over two days in early 2018 and led by a TCG instructor. Participants included 11 leadership personnel from the La Crosse County, Wisconsin District Attorney’s Office, the La Crosse County Department of Human Services (specifically, representatives from Justice Support Services, Juvenile Justice, and the Juvenile Detention Facility), the La Crosse County, Wisconsin Sheriff’s Office, and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Attendees participated in a robust course in research-driven principles and how they can be applied to address numerous complex justice challenges within their agencies and the larger justice system. Day one focused on developing positive and incentive-based case plans and assessments. Day two covered topics such as how to reward positive behaviors and properly address noncompliance, community support engagement, and preparation considerations for successful discharge. Throughout the two-day course, participants had opportunities to practice their instructional skills by delivering the course material to their colleagues.

Participants’ individual experiences with risk reduction principles and practices varied going into the training. For some, such as the participating jail staff members, the course material was largely new. For others, the course served as a good refresher. The training was unanimously well-received, as captured in the course evaluations; participants noted the high quality of the curriculum, the instructor, and the course materials. One participant remarked, “The training is going to be a big help to be able to bridge the understanding gap between social workers and juvenile detention officers.”

Next Steps

La Crosse County officials believe this training was a significant step toward implementing risk reduction principles and programming across justice agencies and other civic organizations, as well as shifting the institutional mindset around the value and applicability of research and data. This train-the-trainer session provided the county with the internal capacity to conduct future training without outside assistance. The identified lead and co-trainers are now equipped to share their knowledge with colleagues and agency counterparts to create organizational change and develop a common language. As these trainers refine their instructional skills locally, La Crosse County eventually hopes to have the capacity to become a regional hub in Wisconsin for risk reduction training.

The implementation of research-driven principles and programming will help enhance public safety, strengthen community partnerships, and advance operations, efficiencies, and communications within the La Crosse County justice system. Whether the eventual result is improved communication between school district officials and juvenile justice support services, the development of upgraded risk/needs assessment matrices, or the expansion of eligibility for misdemeanor diversion programming, the implementation of research-driven practices will have a lasting, positive impact on the La Crosse community.

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If your agency or community is interested in evidence-based decisionmaking principles or would like to apply for technical assistance, please contact BJA NTTAC at to discuss your unique criminal justice needs.