Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tarrant judge models strong probation on Hawaii's HOPE program

In Tarrant County, District Judge Mollee Westfall has launched a strong probation docket modeled after the much-praised HOPE program out of Hawaii, reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ("Judge kicks off strict probation program in Tarrant County," July 9). "The concept is simple: Every time they mess up, they go to the county jail for a short stay. Lie or hide and their stay will be longer." Said the judge: "It will require more jail space in the short run, but in the long run -- if it works the way we expect it to and the way it did in Hawaii -- it will require less prison space, it will lead to less revocations, and it will pay us back tenfold any money that we put into it." The county hopes to get a federal grant to pay for the program, but after researching the HOPE program, Judge Westfall has decided to launch a small, model program in the meantime either way:
Westfall said she jumped at the chance to help implement the program after Leighton Iles, director of Tarrant County's Supervision and Corrections Department, arranged for Angela Hawken, an assistant professor of economics and policy analysis at Pepperdine University, to come talk to the judges about Hawaii's HOPE program.

"I was very taken with it," Westfall said. "It's all upside and no downside, as far as I can see."

Hawken and Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA, researched and evaluated HOPE and found that probationers in the program were less likely to commit new crimes, fail drug tests, miss probation appointments and have their probation revoked.

"The current system fails because it lacks credibility," Hawken said. "Probationers are given a long list of probation conditions that they are told to comply with. But these are rarely monitored and even if violations are detected, punishment is usually inconsistent and delayed. Probationers learn that they can get away with violating the rules.

"When punishments are meted out they are usually too severe. We've now learned that small doses of punishment, meted out for every violation, is much more effective than sporadically lowering the boom."
Iles said people often question why Tarrant County would implement a program aimed at keeping problematic probation violators out of prison.

"Our prison system is at capacity," explained Isles. "There is no room at the inn. If you want the rapists and the robbers and the murderers to stay locked up, we can't put in our one-time drug possessor who has tested positive one time. We have to be more effective."

Tarrant County's Supervision and Corrections Department has applied for an $850,000 federal grant from the Justice Department, which is awarding four such grants to replicate Hawaii's program. If Tarrant County receives the grant, 400 probationers will be assigned to the program.

But for now, Westfall said, they will sign up as many probationers as they can -- around 10 a month -- and use available resources and volunteer staff.
For more background, see this public policy brief (pdf) on the program from the Pew Center on the States, as well as prior related Grits posts:

4 comments:

Jim Stott said...

I have read about the HOPE Program. Implementing immediate anctions for probation violations has long been a goal of probation practitioners. Perhaps it will be a key to reducing technical revocations. It will certainly show the offender that probation can be a serious business if you don't comply with the rules

Anonymous said...

I believe we're witnessing what may be the beginning of the end of this country's failed drug policies. Just a few weeks ago we watched as two members of congress submitted a bill that would allow states to decide their own laws regarding the illegality of drugs.

One thing most intelligent people have realized is that we cannot continue to incarcerate our citizens at the rate we have been doing so for the past decade. It is bankrupting the country, and not even slowing down the demand for drugs.

Too bad we didn't learn anything from our first attempt at Prohibition...

Talk said...

Anon 4:15. You're wrong, someone DID learn something from Prohibition. When there is a market, take it under ground. Now Politicians, that is a different story. They're too stupid to see, that a minority of voters who do not want it, is not a relative base on which to pass laws.

Aloha Tony said...

It will be interesting to see what effects these policies have on the legal system in the long run. Do they reduce crime rates, or just increase prison costs? And do they convince criminals to turn their lives around, or increase their recidivism? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.