Hawaii’s HOPE Program Gets a Critical Review

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Photo by Qiqi Lourdle via Flickr

Photo by Qiqi Lourdle via Flickr

Two of the most widely lauded programs by criminal justice experts and policymakers for their alleged ability to reduce recidivism have received  skeptical assessments.

A forthcoming study to be published in Criminology & Public Policy  concludes that neither Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (Hawaii HOPE) program, nor the Swift, Certain and Fair (SCF) model of supervision achieved  significant reductions in re-arrests of “moderate to high-risk probationers,” compared to standard probation programs.

In the study, Outcome Findings from the HOPE Demonstration Field Experiment, the authors randomly assigned more than 1,500 probationers to normal probation supervision or to a program modeled on HOPE, called the Honest Opportunity Probation with Enforcement, that emphasizes close monitoring, frequent drug testing, and swift and certain punishment for probation violations.  They found no real difference in outcomes.

Based on their experiment, the authors conclude that HOPE/SCF “seems unlikely to offer better outcomes and lower costs for broad classes of moderate-to-high-risk probationers.”

The study authors were: Pamela K. Lattimore, Debbie Dawes, and Stephen Tueller (RTI International); and Doris Layton MacKenzie, Gary Zajac and  Elaine Arsenault (Pennsylvania State University),

The full report is available here free until December 11, and for a fee after that. Members of the American Society of Criminology receive the journal with their membership.


One thought on “Hawaii’s HOPE Program Gets a Critical Review

  1. The conclusion you quote from the Lattimore et. al paper goes far beyond the data. Two commentaries published in the same issue of C&PP point out that:

    (1) Many other studies of SCF programs show good results: not only the original Hawaii program but also 24/7 Sobriety in South Dakota, Swift and Certain in Washington State (a glowing evaluation of which appears in the same issue as the Lattimore et al. paper), and Swift in Texas. Pilot programs using SCF principles to reform the prison-discipline systems in Washington State, Ohio, and Pennsylvania all seem to be working well, though formal evaluations have yet to be published.

    (2) The experimental set-up imposed a rigid formula modeled after the Hawaii program on four districts with vastly different cultures, institutions, and circumstances.

    (3) The model imposed by BJA used only jail as a sanction. Later implementations have had success in encouraging compliance with non-jail sanctions, and with rewards.

    (4) The sanctions used (averaging more than 10 days per violation) were far more severe than those used in other, successful implementations.

    (5) Some jurisdictions jailed people for not paying probation fees, which was never part of the Hawaii model and obviously violates the principle of fairness.

    (6) Imposing a rigid program design prevented the process of consultation with stakeholders which is crucial to the success of any program.

    (7) Rigid program design also meant that the programs under study couldn’t be modified in the face of operational problems, but had to be carried forward according to the experimental protocol.

    (8) Every SCF program takes time to build credibility with those being supervised, so best practice is to roll a program out and shake it down first, and start evaluation later. This evaluation started on Day 1. As expected, the first batch of entrants had much worse outcomes than subsequent batches; the bad result reported was the average.

    (9) One dramatic success of SCF programs is in reducing drug use, but the evaluation did not even measure drug use as an outcome, and therefore couldn’t consider the benefits of reduced drug use in its benefit-cost analysis.

    If the question addressed was “Is HOPE a magical program-with-a-manual that will succeed everywhere if mindlessly replicated?” Lattimore et al. show that the answer is “Of course not.” But that’s not a surprise to anyone who has been doing this work.

    The right conclusion to draw from all the available data is that systems of swift, certain, and fair incentives (rewards as well as sanctions) can and do succeed when implemented with consultation and in a form consistent with local conditions. One key is minimizing the use of jail as a sanction. Programs mismatched to local conditions, or which violate the principles of fairness and procedural justice (including demonstrated goodwill toward participants) perform less well.

    SCF is an operating concept for corrections, not a specific program. How to fit that concept to local conditions is always a complex problem. But unless and until someone produces a logical argument in support of “slow, random, and arbitrary,” there is no reason to ignore the growing evidence that swift, certain, and fair tends to lead to better outcomes.

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