An ‘Amazon’ Approach to Testing Criminal Justice Reforms

The Crime Report

By Dane Stallone

Analyzing whether new policies and practices to reform the criminal justice system actually work can be time-consuming and costly. But one professor is rethinking the way such evaluations are done.

The latest episode of Matt Watkins’s podcast, New Thinking, for the Center for Court Innovation, features a professor who has applied a strategy used successfully by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to test multiple ideas with minimum cost.

Angela Hawken, a professor of public policy at New York University, is the founder of BetaGov, a program that offers free and fast evaluations of public policy programs.

Hawken says that too many research projects use the “Cadillac” model, employing expensive, time-consuming tests that make it difficult for researchers to halt a study if its results aren’t productive.

In developing her model, Hawken looked to successful companies like Amazon. She cites Bezos as saying that he attributes the success of Amazon to its ability to run thousands of low-costs trials of ideas or apps at one time to test whether they attract an audience.

Hawken set out to make what she calls an alternative, “exploratory” track of research that is “inexpensive to do and can be shut down very nimbly if the outcomes aren’t moving in the intended direction.”

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