Like flies in amber, policies and programs that emerged from ways of thinking consistent with the crime control politics of the 1980s continue to win support. More than 150 corrections programs have emulated Hawaii’s Project HOPE, a probation initiative based on “swift, fair, and certain” sanctions.34 Probationers are told that any breach of conditions will result in immediate sanctions, initially modest but progressing in severity with each subsequent breach, eventually resulting in revocation and a trip to prison for a period of years. An initial evaluation purported to show that probationers subjected to the program reoffended less often than others and were less likely to be imprisoned.35 NIJ funded a series of replications that were evaluated using randomized assignments of eligible offenders to treatment and control groups. The new evaluations concluded that the programs were ineffective.36
Project HOPE was misconceived from the outset. “Swift, fair, and certain” is much more
apt for conditioning dogs or horses than for dealing with disadvantaged low-level offenders, many drug-dependent or mentally ill, and most living socially disorganized lives. What they as a group need is structured access to diverse services and forms of support to help them address human capital deficiencies and establish prosocial patterns of living. Operation HOPE treated compliance with probation conditions as an end in itself.
HOPE is inconsistent with ways of thinking that are necessary if successful use of community punishments is to be greatly increased. HOPE is fundamentally punitive and indifferent to the complexities of the lives of the people it affects. A disadvantaged, socially inadequate person subjected to HOPE will remain a disadvantaged socially inadequate person even if he or she successfully completes a probation term.
34 Kleiman, Mark A. R. 2009. When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Low Crime and Low Punishment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
35 Hawken, Angela, and Mark Kleiman. 2009. “Managing Drug Involved Probationers with Swift and Certain Sanctions: Evaluating Hawaii’s HOPE.” Final Report, grant no. 2007-IJ-CX-0033, to the National Institute of Justice. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.
36 Lattimore, Pamela K., Doris Layton MacKenzie, Gary Zajac, Debbie Dawes, Elaine Arsenault, and Stephen Tueller. 2016. “Outcome Findings from the HOPE: Demonstration Field Experiment. Is Swift, Certain, and Fair an Effective Supervision Strategy?” Criminology and Public Policy 15 (4):1103-41; O’Connell, Daniel J., John J. Brent, and Christy A. Visher. 2016. “ Decide Your Time: A Randomized Trial of a Drug Testing and Graduated Sanctions Program for Probationers.” Criminology and Public Policy 15(4):1073-1102.