Criminal Deterrence: A Review of the Missing Literature
Interest in real-world effects of celerity grew after Judge Steven Alm decided to experiment with the consequences of probation violations in Hawaii. Instead of harsh but unlikely sanctions, Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program introduced light but immediate punishment ranging from a warning to a week in jail. The initial evaluation of the HOPE program showed dramatic effects. A randomly selected group of individuals assigned to the new regime was 55 percent less likely to be arrested for a new crime and 72 percent less likely to use drugs (Hawken and Kleiman 2009). Positive results from similar programs came from Texas, Alaska, Kentucky, and Michigan (Hawken 2016, summarizing studies). Kilmer et al. (2013) found similar effects studying a South Dakota program targeting alcohol-addicted offenders. Chalfin and McCrary (2017) concluded that “swift-and-certain sanctions regimes such as that motivated by HOPE … seem especially promising” (Chalfin and McCrary 2017, 40). By 2018, thirty-one states were implementing the HOPE model in 160 locations (Cullen et al. 2018).
But significant doubts about the efficacy of these programs emerged before long. And some of these doubts relate to the role that celerity plays in program outcomes. A randomized controlled trial of HOPE-like programs implemented in four separate locations in Arkansas, Massachusetts, Oregon and Texas with significant involvement of the program’s architect (Judge Alm) and its principal analysts (Angela Hawken and Mark Kleiman) showed no advantage of the HOPE regime over business as usual (Lattimore et al. 2016, Cullen et al. 2018). Another study of a similar program that tested the effectiveness of swift-and-certain sanctions in a different institutional setting also showed no benefits (O’Connell, Brent, and Visher 2016).
Hawken (2016) and Kleiman (2016) offered several explanations for the absence of positive results in randomized controlled experiments, as did Judge Alm (2016). These included a failure to replicate HOPE’s “caring and therapeutic” nature (Alm 2016, 1202), the complexity and multi-modality of the HOPE intervention (Hawken 2016, 1234; Kleiman 2016, 1187-88), the failure to adjust the program to variable local conditions (Hawken 2016, 1232), the choice of locations that already had a successful probation regimes in place (Hawken 2016, 1232), and lack of attention to perceptions of fairness (as opposed to the focus on certainty and celerity, Hawken 2016, 1235), among others. These explanations suggest that uncovering the deterrence effect of celerity (if any) in the real world is a very challenging task. Given that earlier studies looking for the same effect mostly failed to find it (Dušek 2015; Pratt and Turanovic 2018, 189-90, reviewing studies), support for Beccaria’s intuition about the importance of celerity remains to be discovered.