Program helps drug offenders break cycle
High-risk convicted drug offenders assigned to Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement program have a better chance of staying out of trouble than those who do not go through the program, according to preliminary findings of a study released yesterday.
Hope in treatment
A study of Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement program found participants fared better than nonparticipants:
Missed appointments with probation officers
Test positive for drug use
Source: Professors Angela Hawken of Pepperdine University and Mark Kleiman of UCLA
The study found that HOPE participants were less likely to miss appointments with their probation officers, test positive for drug use, get arrested and go to prison than high-risk drug offenders not assigned to the program.
Angela Hawken, a professor of economics and policy analysis at Pepperdine University, and Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at University of California, Los Angeles, have been studying the state's HOPE program since October. They presented their findings during a round-table discussion among representatives from public policy organizations and state and federal agencies at the Pew Center on the State's Washington, D.C., office.
Circuit Judge Steven Alm participated in the discussion to explain how the program he started in 2004 works and to answer questions from officials interested in adopting HOPE for their agencies.
The research so far shows that probationers in the study not assigned to HOPE were more than twice as likely to miss appointments with their probation officers and test positive for drug use and more than three times as likely to get arrested and have their probation revoked compared with those who were assigned to HOPE.
Probationers assigned to HOPE get a warning before they enter the program that if they violate terms of their probation, they will be arrested immediately and given a short jail term. They are tested for drug use at least once a week. If they test positive, fail to show or refuse to provide a sample, they are arrested and sent to jail following a court hearing within two days.
Alm says many offenders take drugs because they know if they are caught, they will go to jail later, not today.
"So by making them completely understand that if I use drugs today I go to jail tomorrow, many of them will be able to make the choice that if they don't want to go to jail tomorrow, so I'm not going to use drugs today," he said.
If probationers continue to use drugs, they can be assigned to drug treatment.
Hawken said one of the reasons HOPE has been successful where other similar programs have failed is because it does not immediately assign offenders to drug treatment, only those who have proved they are unable to stop drug use on their own.
"Unlike what's happening in many of the other states where because everybody has to be treated, we end up often seeing everybody gets a little bit of nothing. There aren't enough treatment resources to go around," she said.
Another reason for HOPE's success so far is that it started small, Kleiman said. Maryland had a similar program called Break the Cycle. It started with 17,000 probationers and failed because the group was too big, he said.
HOPE started in October 2004 with 34 probationers. There are more than 1,200 offenders in the program today.
"It's been working great. We now have six felony judges involved in the process, three judges dealing with misdemeanor domestic violence cases," Alm said.
Participants also offered Alm suggestions for improving HOPE including positive reinforcement, not just punishment. One suggestion that Alm said he can adopt right away is having judges write letters to offenders documenting the progress and success they have achieved and congratulating them for it.
Hawken and Kleiman are continuing their evaluation of HOPE, but so far the results look very positive, Hawken said. They expect to present a cost-benefit analysis of the program by December.