Hawaii’s HOPE program, if widely adopted as a model for probation and parole reform, could make a surprisingly large contribution to reducing the prison population, says the New York Times Magazine. HOPE, which tightens probation enforcement, “puts a fresh twist on some venerable ideas about deterrence,” says the Times. The threat of a mild punishment imposed reliably and immediately seems to have a much greater deterrent effect than the threat of a severe punishment that is delayed and uncertain.
People are more sensitive to the immediate than the future and focus more on how likely an outcome is than how bad it is. Judge Steven Alm, who initiated the program, found that people are most likely to obey the law when they're subject to punishments they perceive as legitimate, fair and consistent, rather than arbitrary and capricious.