Criminology & Public Policy, Volume17, Issue4, November 2018
Editorial Introduction: Benefits and Costs of “Swift, Certain, and Fair” Supervision: Is a Bottom‐Line Estimate Really the Bottom Line?
Swift, certain, and fair supervision (SCF) is a multifaceted policy with important, competing goals. One goal is the presumption of fiscal savings, or cost neutrality, by trading more expensive criminal justice system resources (e.g., confinement) for less expensive resources (e.g., supervision in the community). Although notably lacking in the field of criminal justice (Cohen, 2016; Farrington, Petrosino, and Welsh, 2001; Weisburd, Farrington, and Gill, 2017; Welsh and Farrington, 2015), benefit–cost analysis can help assess whether programs or policies achieve monetary benefits that outweigh costs to taxpayers. Benefit–cost analysis can be particularly useful for evaluating reinvestment policies like SCF (Kleiman, 2011), as well as for assessing programs in which multiple outcomes are targeted (Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 2017).
That is precisely the investigation that Cowell et al (2018) undertook, using a sample from the well‐regarded multisite demonstration field experiment, the Honest Opportunity Probation Enforcement program (HOPE DFE). The randomized controlled trial results showed no differences in recidivism for HOPE DFE participants compared with those in probation as usual (Lattimore, MacKenzie, Zajac, Dawes, Arsenault, and Tueller, 2016), and the findings from the benefit–cost analysis demonstrated no achieved criminal justice cost‐savings at three HOPE DFE sites, as well as a statistically significant increase in costs at one HOPE DFE site in the long‐run follow‐up. In her policy essay response to Cowell et al.’s findings, Hawken (2018) provides crucial contextual insights into the interpretation of the HOPE DFE findings within the broader context of both SCF and community supervision. In this introduction, I provide my reflections on the HOPE DFE benefit–cost analysis as well as on Hawken’s policy response. I identify important implications for SCF from a public policy perspective and outline future directions for research on SCF and more broadly within community corrections.
Research Article: Economic Evaluation of the HOPE Demonstration Field Experiment
In the program implemented in the Honest Opportunity Probation with Enforcement Demonstration Field Experiment (HOPE DFE), the following approach is taken: close monitoring; frequent drug testing; readily available substance abuse treatment; and swift, certain, and fair sanctioning to deter probationers from violating supervision conditions. We assessed in this study the costs and outcomes of the demonstration program across four jurisdictions, using 24 months of data from 625 probationers randomly assigned to probation as usual (PAU) or HOPE DFE. Our results reveal that the HOPE DFE group incurred more criminal justice costs than the PAU group over the observation period.
Policy Essay: Economic Implications of HOPE from the Demonstration Field Experiment
Cowell et al. (2018) conducted a strong study of community supervision in the United States that informs our understanding of outcomes and costs associated with Honest Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) at the four Demonstration Field Experiment (DFE) sites and of the outcomes and costs of probation more generally. The findings from their study reveal as many questions as they do answers. Most are not resolvable through science; rather, they are core philosophical questions about the role of community supervision, especially for persons supervised on charges related to illicit drug use. In this policy essay, I discuss the lessons learned from the economic evaluation of the HOPE DFE, pose questions that follow from the findings, and note several implications for future research.