Cover: An Assessment of Program Sustainability in Three Bureau of Justice Assistance Criminal Justice Domains

An Assessment of Program Sustainability in Three Bureau of Justice Assistance Criminal Justice Domains

Published Apr 21, 2014

by Eyal Aharoni, Lila Rabinovich, Joshua Mallett, Andrew R. Morral

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Research Question

  1. What program characteristics were found to predict sustainment of operations or funding?

The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) aims to improve community safety through effective programming throughout the United States. To maximize the impact of its investments, BJA has an interest in supporting programs that will be sustained beyond initial federal funding. This notion of program sustainability is becoming increasingly important as programs have been challenged to operate with increasingly scarce resources. RAND Corporation researchers aimed to better understand the characteristics and environments of programs that are likely to persist beyond federal seed funding and to delineate strategies that will enable BJA to assist programs that it funds in their efforts to sustain themselves. Using archival documentation and survey methods, they assessed 231 BJA grantee programs spanning three BJA funding domains — drug courts, human trafficking, and mental health — to identify characteristics associated with sustainability. They found evidence of program sustainment in most BJA grantees studied, particularly in sustained funding. They also examined the association between organizational and contextual factors and sustained operations and sustained funding. Finally, they recommend a plan for ongoing measurement of sustainability.

Key Findings

Insights from Empirical Literature and from Program Directors Reveal Some Characteristics of Sustainable Programs

  • Following their review of the literature, the researchers hypothesized that sustainment would be most strongly associated with programs showing evidence of increased funding stability, increased modifiability, increased political support, stronger partnerships, greater organizational capacity, program evaluation, greater public impact, and strategic planning.
  • Program sustainment was significantly predicted by measures of program funding stability, program modifiability, and the existence of well-connected project leaders.
  • In post hoc tests, sustainment was also significantly predicted by the existence of well-connected project leaders.


  • BJA should develop a comprehensive, quantitative measurement and data-collection plan, permitting the systematic tracking and analysis of performance and outcome measures of program sustainment. The measurement plan should include longitudinal assessment of grantee performance beyond the award period.
  • BJA should develop a procedure for educating grantees early about strategies for program sustainment that are grounded in existing literature.
  • Although it is not yet known whether a single standardized evaluation process for all BJA grantees would be feasible or valuable for fostering program sustainment, the authors recommend support for further research to investigate this possibility.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and was conducted in the Safety and Justice Program within RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

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