The NCJTP survey provides the first survey of the correctional landscape, across both adult and juvenile justice systems, to describe and assess substance abuse treatment programs and services provided to offenders. As will be discussed in the following articles, the information from the survey provides an unusually textured view of correctional substance abuse service delivery and should be useful in better understanding offender outcomes from these services. From a methodological point, this survey has contributed significantly to knowledge on the conduct of surveys among correctional agencies existing across the correctional landscape and our understanding of challenges to ensuring the accuracy of survey data.
Overall, point population estimates for the survey mirror other existing sources and indicate the robustness of the methodological approach. The methodology of using a census of state administrators and a two-stage multiple samples of communities was successful. The two-stage approach ensured that the sample is representative of national trends and allowed the researchers to develop a frame for the second stage, which reveals the range of agencies involved in service provision at the local level. In analyses presented elsewhere in this volume, the survey revealed 24 combinations of state, local, and nongovernmental agencies that operate to provide correctional services to youth and adults in the 72 sampled counties. In most counties, the organizational structure for youth is different from that for adults. Part of the goal of this survey was to learn about how programs and services are provided, which was accomplished. The survey methodology also provides another method of administering surveys to what are typically government agencies.
From a survey administration perspective, the survey’s response rates were likely a function of the tenacity of the research team and the involvement of key stakeholder associations that assisted the process. This survey was truly a collaborative effort, involving national organizations that took part in various phases of survey development and implementation. From the earliest planning discussions, the research team was committed to involving field leaders and representatives, and the better-than-expected response rates are a product of these partnerships. The survey cover letter, accompanying letters of support, and follow-up letters from national associations were used to illustrate the importance of the survey findings to the field. The letters also addressed the policymakers’ demands for information on service structures and practices. This approach echoed the guiding tenets of CJ-DATS, which emphasize partnerships between researchers and practitioners, and the practical application of research findings. We believe that the cover letters on the surveys authored by national associations added to the impressive response rates; in fact, when some respondents lost the accompanying envelope, they would forward the survey to the association, and in some follow-up phone calls, the respondents referred to the survey as coming from a given association.
Conducting a survey such as this one has provided numerous lessons. First, some of the lower response rates are likely due to the length of the survey instrument. This survey was one that tried to meet a number of objectives and, in doing so, is long (three of four had >20 pages). By creating sections to the survey, which allowed the user to have an easy "rest point," we believe that we were able to get responses that did not speak to fatigue. During the survey administration, we learned that nearly 20% of the facilities had acting administrators. Some of the acting administrators were more willing than others to complete the survey or were hesitant to complete the instrument either due to their "unofficial" capacity or due to the concern that the survey will detail how little services are available in their facility. These are challenges that future researchers will have to address. In retrospect, using replacement strategies and a slightly larger budget to enlarge the sample size might have been preferred, but due to the study’s limitations, we chose to put funding into proactive, engagement, and follow-up strategies, sending out replacement surveys instead of replacing sites. Finally, another lesson regards the need to clarify more about the nature of the populations under the jurisdiction of the agency. Although we relied upon the categories in the field, more attention to the different components of the "legal status" of the offender is probably worthy of further consideration.
Throughout the process of planning, conducting, and presenting survey results, we have been confronted with difficulties that stem from the inadequate and imprecise language used in the field of corrections to describe services, programs, and systems. Just those three words—services, programs, and systems—have different meanings to different individuals and are used inconsistently. One drawback of imprecise terminology is that administrators may overlook or misunderstand critical information because it appears to them to be irrelevant to their own system. A case in point is jails that operate as both secure institutions and reporting centers or programs for offenders residing at home or in nonsecure facilities, or community correctional programs that operate halfback programs where offenders are in a semi-incarcerated status. Developing consensus on an improved precise taxonomy or vernacular for use by the field is an important step in establishing a strong knowledge base.
In the field of substance abuse treatment, particularly corrections, the survey is unusual in its focus on organizational issues. In this regard, the survey reflects a growing concern about the role played by organizational factors in the gap between science and practice. Reviews of literature point to principles of effective treatment, such as matching offenders to treatment modalities based on need (and not criminal charge) and providing continuity of care from institutions to communities and residential-to-outpatient programming that have longstanding support in research but remain unimplemented (Andrews & Bonta, 1996
; CSAT, 1998; Lowenkamp, Latessa, & Hoslinger, 2006
; NIDA, 2006
; Simpson et al., 1999
; Taxman, 1998a
; Taxman & Bouffard, 2000
; Taxman & Marlowe, 2006
). The survey was designed to add new insights and to form new strategies that address these age-old issues. Overall, we believe that the survey findings should also help address gaps inherent to an existing body of literature that tends to rely upon site-specific studies conducted in jurisdictions that are known to pilot innovations (e.g., Maricopa County, AZ), have the capacity to support extensive research-driven training of program staff (e.g., the state of Delaware), or have unusually strong working relationships with a researcher. The survey is a first step in beginning the process of knowledge dissemination and diffusion to improve practice (Institute of Medicine, 1992