In criminal justice, as in other fields, an experimental study conducted at a single site does not offer a solid basis upon which to make strong public policy recommendations. To date, criminal justice researchers have relied upon two general approaches to overcome the limitations of single-site experimental research. The first, termed "meta-analysis," seeks to combine independent studies to identify consistent effects across criminal justice settings or contexts. The second, sometimes termed "replication studies," seeks to replicate investigations in multiple criminal justice jurisdictions. In this paper we describe a related approach developed in clinical studies in medicine and examine its applicability in criminal justice settings. Termed a "multicenter clinical trial," this method demands the implementation of a single experimental protocol at multiple sites. We contrast the multicenter approach with other methods and provide a substantive example of an ongoing multicenter criminal justice study. We begin by examining the specific limitations of current approaches and solutions offered by multicenter studies to overcome these. We then turn to an application of the multicenter clinical trial in a criminal justice setting. Using the example of the HIDTA (High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas) evaluation of drug treatment programs currently being conducted at multiple sites, we illustrate components of the multicenter approach as well as potential drawbacks researchers are likely to face in its application in crime and justice studies.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Support for this research has been provided under cooperative agreement I9PWBP528 from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and grant award 96CEVX0017 from the National Institute of Justice. Points of view in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official positions of these federal agencies. We would like to thank Joe Naus for his helpful advice on statistical questions; Anthony Petrosino, Joel Garner, and Iaain Chalmers for their thoughts regarding experimental study; and Bruce Kubu, Christine DeFastano, Dorothy Lockwood, Rebecca Silverman, and Meredith Thanne for their assistance in implementing the project. Helpful suggestions to improve the paper were also provided by Michael Maltz and anonymous reviewers of JQC.
- Criminal justice
- Drug treatment
- Multicenter randomized trial
- Randomized experiments
- Replication studies
- Statistical power