The HOPE program is similar to strong probation mechanisms used in drug courts, but with a much broader population of offenders. According to the Wall Street Journal:
HOPE is the brainchild of Judge Steven Alm, an energetic 55-year-old former U.S. attorney for Hawaii who drives a black Corvette. He was assigned to criminal court in 2004 and immediately faced a slew of motions to revoke probation. In every case, he recalls, the defendant had "pages of violations stretching back months or even years" yet had suffered virtually no consequences for any of them.
That is the reality across the U.S., Prof. Kennedy said. Probation, administered by a patchwork of state and local systems and often starved for resources, "basically teaches people to ignore" probation officers' warnings, he said, until violations accumulate to a tipping point. Then, offenders face dire -- and expensive -- consequences: in Hawaii, as much as 20 years in prison.
To Judge Alm, this system seemed as absurd as parents failing to respond to a child's persistent misbehavior and then suddenly kicking him or her out of the house. His idea: Instead of one severe sanction after many violations, mete out relatively minor but "swift and certain" sanctions for every violation.
The judge holds a "warning hearing" to explain the HOPE rules. Under regular probation, for example, offenders are usually drug-tested only when they meet with their probation officer, giving them time to wash out the drugs. In HOPE, probationers with a drug problem must call in every weekday morning to see if they are scheduled for a random drug test that day.
Virtually every violation results in immediate arrest, a hearing within 72 hours and almost certain jail time, varying from a few days for a first violation to a few months for subsequent ones. Participants who accumulate several violations risk having probation revoked and being sent to prison for years.
"I thought it would be counterproductive," recalled probation officer Sheri Shimbakuku. "How will I help them if they're in jail?" But she says HOPE probationers seemed much more receptive to help: "Boy, it was just different seeing their reaction to being in jail."
Flash incarceration has been used around the U.S. by specialized courts established to adjudicate drug cases, with demonstrated success. But the Hawaii program is one of the first to test the approach among a broader group of probationers. In a randomized, controlled trial of more than 500 probationers, researchers from Pepperdine University and the University of California at Los Angeles found HOPE probationers were less than half as likely as controls to miss probation-officer appointments or test dirty for drugs, even though the controls knew in advance when they would be tested and HOPE participants didn't. These preliminary findings are being announced Thursday, and full results are expected by year end.