You Get What You Measure: New Performance Indicators Needed to Gauge Progress of Criminal Justice Reform

May 22, 2018
Author: Adam Gelb

The Executive Session on Community Corrections has released a new paper entitled You Get What You Measure: New Performance Indicators Needed to Gauge Progress of Criminal Justice Reform. 

Jurisdictions across the U.S. are engaging in efforts to reform sentencing and corrections policies, with an aim of shrinking the footprint of the criminal justice system. As these reforms unfold, the makeup of correctional populations is shifting, both for facilities and for probation and parole agencies. 

This new paper, authored by Adam Gelb, calls for the development of new indices that provide an overall picture of the risk profile of people in prison and under community corrections supervision. 

These measures will help policymakers and the public understand whether criminal justice reforms are working as intended, specifically whether prisons increasingly hold people who have been convicted of serious, violent offenses and have extensive criminal histories and whether reentry and related policies and programs are reducing recidivism.


Praise for You Get What You Measure: New Performance Indicators Needed to Gauge Progress of Criminal Justice Reform:

  • "In this document, Mr. Gelb lays out an important truth – going forward, new measures will be increasingly important to understand the impact of criminal justice reform.  As a result of research-supported policy changes centered on offender risk, correctional resources are increasingly focused on moderate to high risk offenders.  For our department, the portion of the standard and intensive probation population assessed as medium-high and high risk increased from 37% to 50% over a three year period.  The significance of this population shift must be considered in how we assess our progress, interpret performance results, and report out to stakeholders. This is a timely, insightful article that offers welcome guidance to help correctional agencies assess their progress in a changing environment." -- Barbara A. Broderick, Chief Adult Probation Officer for Maricopa County
  • "As jurisdictions across the nation at the Federal, State, and local level, search for solutions to end decades of mass incarceration which has contributed to destabilizing communities, and the multi-generational incarceration of families, Mr. Gelb’s  paper “You Get What You Measure” provides important insight into incorporating performance measures on the front end of solutions to ensure that new criminal justice strategies are designed and measured for success and the re-building of communities and families, rather than resulting in more decades of societal and criminal justice system failures." -- Wendy Still, Chief Probation Officer, Alameda County Probation Department
  • "In this important paper, Adam Gelb proposes new metrics that will help us measure the progress of criminal justice reform, and will also be a force for reform in its own right. “You Get What You Measure” makes the case for incorporating into our measures of incarceration the degree to which prisons are focused on those with histories of serious crime. The paper takes one big step to measuring not just incarceration, but over-incarceration: the gratuitous deprivation of liberty through excessive punishment." -- Bruce Western, Co-Director of the Columbia Justice Lab, Visiting Professor of Sociology at Columbia University


Adam Gelb is Director of the Public Safety Performance Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The Executive Session on Community Corrections is a project of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management (PCJ) in the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).

Findings and conclusions in these publications are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the US Department of Justice.

Download the report