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.
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: