Thursday, August 09, 2012

DOJ funds pilot to test HOPE court model in Fort Worth

Emily Foxhall at the Texas Tribune yesterday published a feature on efforts in Tarrant County to replicate Hawaii's much-ballyhooed HOPE Court, which is a strong probation model and one of the more successful special sanctions courts which have cropped up in the last decade or so. Referred to by its Hawaiian creator as "probation on steroids," the model engages the judge much more intimately with probation supervision than is usually the case. Here's how Foxhall's story opens:
A Hawaiian court program known as Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement, or HOPE, which strictly enforces criminal offenders' probation periods, has officially arrived in Texas for a test run.

The state’s first HOPE “warning hearing,” in which the judge encourages initial participants to succeed and informs them of the probation rules and consequences for misbehavior, is set to occur Friday in Tarrant County. The introduction marks the start of an experiment funded in part with a $728,364 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to determine how the Hawaiian HOPE model would translate in the mainland.

The DOJ is also funding teams in three other American cities to test the program.

“This research project is to either prove or disprove that it can be replicated with the same results,” said Judge Mollee Westfall, whose Tarrant County court will pilot the project in Texas. In Hawaii, the HOPE court has already been shown to significantly lower both the drug use among participants and the probability that they will reoffend. The research in Texas is expected to last three years: Participants will begin the program over the next year, spend roughly a year in it and will be tracked by researchers for a year after leaving it.

The Tarrant County HOPE court will focus on felony offenders who have committed low-level drug offenses or property crimes and are at high risk for violating terms of their probation. The model, which resembles other probation programs that already exist in Texas, holds the potential to work with an increasing number of specialty courts in the state.
Fochall also mentioned a couple of new advisory councils created this year by the governor to advise him on specialty courts and other criminal justice questions:
One hundred and twenty six actively operating specialty courts have been registered with the governor’s office. As the number of such courts continues to increase in the state, judges and legislators have emphasized a need to monitor them more closely. A specialty courts advisory council was created this year to review courts that apply for funding from the governor's office, and the criminal justice advisory council reinstated this year is helping to define best practices for the specialty courts in the state.
For more background, see this 2-page fact sheet (pdf) from USDOJ on the HOPE program, and a 2008 Wall Street Journal feature that first popularized the model.

See also prior, related Grits posts:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Specialty Court works because of the relationship the Judge develops with the probationer period.

There is lots or research high risk, close supervision, low risk, less supervision, etc. All of it is real, but probation and community corrections officials have known this for years. The specialty court model is a great tool, but again, the relationship with the Judge is what makes the difference.

If the Judge doesn't get to know the defendant (have meaningful conversations with the defendant while the defendant is before the bench),then the specialty court is a joke.

The problem is there isn't enough funding to have Specialty Courts left and right. Caseloads are too large, having specialty courts cause one officer to get to benefit from the experience of cutting edge supervision while causing caseloads for other officers to increase.

I would never take away the specialty court idea, but someone needs to realize that it takes money to make these things work. Judges earn in excess of $100,000.00 per year and they deserve it. If money can be found to pay them,money can be foudn to fund the Specialty Court and the entire probation system adequately.

Community Corrections professionals are paid less than teachers and are expected to perform way too many functions, causing burn out, turnover, lack of consistency and lack of quality over all.

Fund probation, fund parole, but not just the specialty court, the whole system. Give them enough money to operate.

The way things are going in Texas, every CSCD will have to close down (although they can probably survive for about 20 more years) unless something is done about the rising cost of insurance draining the CSCD budget and the cost of providing insurance for retirees as well.

Community Corrections is relatively young in Texas. But, there are many who made a career of the profession and are retiring sucking the budgets of the CSCD to where many who would have been leaders in the field left because of the mess of the lack of funding.

It's fun to pontificate about Specialty Court, and research,and the NADCP telling people in Texas how to supervise the offender, but without funding, the system will never be what it really could be.