Minnesota DOC Commissioner Tom Roy: CBA can help agencies spend limited resources wisely

By , November 12, 2013
Thomas Roy

Commissioner Tom Roy

Tom Roy is the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC). We recently interviewed Grant Duwe, the agency’s director of research, about how the DOC is using cost-benefit analysis (CBA). We corresponded with Commissioner Roy to expand on the discussion.

Can you tell us how you see CBA as helpful to your work and your staff’s work? What cost-benefit studies about criminal justice have you found especially valuable—and how so?

Although the DOC’s budget is funded by Minnesota taxpayers and ultimately determined by the state legislature, the agency’s resources are still finite. For example, we cannot deliver programming that effectively meets all of the criminogenic needs for every offender who is incarcerated. As a result, we need to use the resources we’ve been given as wisely as possible. CBAs not only tell us which programs are effective, but also let us know how we can get the most out of the programming we provide offenders.

CBAs are helpful for making decisions internally, but they also provide valuable information to legislators. During the most recent legislative session, the DOC received funding to increase capacity for sex offender and chemical dependency treatment. The research we’ve conducted on the effectiveness of treatment programming was instrumental in helping persuade legislators that this investment would provide the state with a benefit.

How has the Minnesota DOC acted on CBA findings—or how might the department do so in the future?

Based on what we’ve seen from the recent CBA findings, it’s clear that a program’s size or capacity has a large impact on its return on investment (ROI). Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel by coming up with a lot of new programs for offenders, the evidence we have shows there are programs that work. To get these programs to produce even better ROIs, though, we need to focus more on increasing their capacity, which will hopefully enhance their cost-effectiveness by reducing their operational costs.

Is using CBA part of the state government’s culture?

Historically, CBA’s haven’t necessarily been a fixture within Minnesota state government. However, we’re entering a time when I think CBAs will become more commonplace and, as the recent Pew report shows, Minnesota is at the forefront of that movement. The report also shows that other agencies within the state are using CBAs, but I think the recent work we’ve done in this area demonstrates that we are leading the way in Minnesota. The main message I would share with administrators from other state agencies as well as DOCs in other states is that CBAs can be a powerful tool to help your agency run more efficiently.

How do you determine what to examine using CBA, and what do you think the DOC might study next? What cost-benefit study do you wish would appear on your desk tomorrow?

Prior to becoming Commissioner of Corrections for the Minnesota DOC, I worked for more than 35 years in community corrections. Much of the recent research we’ve done has concentrated on institutional corrections, but I also think we need to focus more of our attention on what works in community corrections. Over the past 40 years, a lot of evidence has accumulated on what’s effective with offenders, but I think there’s still a lot more we can learn. Conducting CBAs on correctional supervision could be very helpful in better determining what the optimal policies and practices should be when it comes to supervising offenders in the community.

What advice do you have for corrections agencies looking to increase their use of CBA?

I think correctional agencies need to be open to critically examining what they do. Sometimes research may show that what you’re doing is really effective or that a certain program has a really good ROI. Other times, though, research can expose programs or interventions that aren’t working very well. The key point here is that agencies need to have a willingness to apply the research findings, whether they’re positive or negative, to make our programs better, which ultimately produces more effective correctional systems.

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