Deterrence, Choice, and Crime, Volume 23: Contemporary Perspectives
Ch. 6. Deterrent Effects of the Certainty and Severity of Punishment
The Deterrent Effect of Imprisonment
(p. 162) I turn now to six studies that in my judgment report particularly convincing evidence on the deterrent effect of incarceration. They also nicely illustrate heterogeneity in the deterrence response to the threat of imprisonment. These studies are: Weisburd, Einat, and Kowalski (2008) and Hawken and Kleiman (2009), who study the use of imprisonment to enforce fine payment and conditions of probation, respectively, and find substantial deterrent effects; Helland and Tabarrok (2007), who analyze the deterrent effect of California’s third-strike provision and find a modest deterrent effect; Raphael and Ludwig (2003), who examine the deterrent effect of prison sentence enhancements for gun crimes and find no effect; and Lee and McCrary (2009) and Hjalmarsson (2009), who examine the heightened threat of imprisonment that attends coming under the jurisdiction of the adult courts at the age of majority, and find no deterrent effect.
Weisburd et al. (2008) report on a randomized field trial of alternative strategies for incentivizing the payment of court-ordered fines. The most salient finding involves the “miracle of the cells,” namely, that the imminent threat of incarceration provides a powerful incentive to pay delinquent fines, even when the incarceration is only for a short period. The miracle of the cells provides a valuable perspective on the conclusion that the certainty, rather than the severity, of punishment is the more powerful deterrent. Consistent with the “certainty principle,” the common feature of treatment conditions involving incarceration is a high certainty of imprisonment for failure to pay the fine. However, that Weisburd and colleagues label the response the “miracle of the cells” and not the “miracle of certainty” is telling. Their choice of label is a reminder that certainty must result in a distasteful consequence in order for it to be a deterrent. The consequences need not be draconian, just sufficiently costly, to deter the proscribed behavior.
The deterrence strategy of certain but non-draconian sanctions has been applied with apparently great success in Project HOPE, an intervention heralded in Hawken and Kleiman (2009), Kleiman (2009), and Hawken (2010). Project HOPE is a Hawaii-based probation enforcement program. In a randomized experiment, probationers assigned to Project HOPE had much lower rates of positive drug tests, missed appointments, and—most importantly—were significantly less likely to be arrested and imprisoned. The cornerstone of the HOPE intervention was regular drug testing, including random tests, and certain but short punishment periods of confinement (e.g., 1–2 days) for positive drug tests or other violation of conditions of probation. Thus, both the Weisburd et al. (2008) fine experiment and Project HOPE show that highly certain punishment can be an effective deterrent to individuals for which deterrence had previously been ineffective in deterring their criminal behavior.
Celerity in Criminological Research
Policies and programs similar to these contain heavy doses of the certainty and severity of punishment, but programs that incorporate celerity have been conspicuously absent from the correctional arena. That is, until Project HOPE.
Project HOPE (Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement Program) originated in the state of Hawaii as a new model for probation. It was begun by a single influential judge who was fed up with a system of weak and delayed sanctions for behavioral transgressions that he thought enabled probationers to thumb their noses at the conditions of their supervision. The program entailed the imposition of graduated sanctions along with swift punishment—in the form of immediate jail time—for any administrative infraction, including flunking a urine test and failing to make it to a meeting with the probation officer (Alm 2011). In an initial evaluation, the use of quickly enforced incarceration revealed the existence of significant celerity effects (Hawken and Kleiman 2009)—findings that advocates of the program used to successfully trumpet its implementation elsewhere around the country (Bartels 2015; Hawken 2010a, 2010b).
Yet like many a punishment fad before it, subsequent evaluations of Project HOPE programs in other places (e.g., Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon, Texas, and Washington) failed to replicate such positive findings (Carns and Martin 2011; Hamilton, Campbell, van Wormer, Kigerl, and Posey 2016; Lattimore, MacKenzie, Zajac, Dawes, Arsenault, and Tueller 2016; O’Connell, Brent, and Visher 2016). Even a lengthier follow-up of the original HOPE participants from Hawaii revealed a dwindling deterrent effect (Hawken, Kulick, Smith, Mei, Zhang, Jarman, Yu, Carson, and Vial 2016). Accordingly, the case for significant celerity effects appears to be weak in light of this evaluation literature (Duriez, Cullen, and Manchak 2014; Pearsall 2014). In fact, this reality recently led Cullen, Pratt, and Turanovic (2016) to declare Project HOPE to be “hopeless.”
Thus, the bottom line from the criminological literature is that there is no clear evidence of celerity effects in criminal justice processing. With few and isolated exceptions, this body of empirical work reveals a rather clear consensus that speeding up the time of arrest, prosecution, or incarceration appears to have no consistent effect on one’s future criminal behavior. But the case is not closed yet. There is a body of literature coming out of psychologists’ laboratories—one that has been steadily growing for decades—that might have something important to say about the potential for celerity effects of punishment.
Ch. 11. Corrections and Deterrence
(p. 320) Effect of Project HOPE
One final hope for deterrence-oriented programs to be effective originated in the islands of Hawaii. Envisioned by Judge Steve S. Alm, Project HOPE—Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement Program—was created in 2004 (Hawken and Kleiman 2009; Kleiman 2009). Based on the ideals of deterrence theory, Judge Alm hypothesized that offenders commonly violated probation (e.g., missed meetings, had dirty drug tests) because there were no consequences associated with not complying. At the time, probation violations often resulted in no sanction whatsoever, thus the costs of not abiding by the conditions of probation were exceptionally low. With the benefits of noncompliance (e.g., getting high or drunk) outweighing the costs, violations were bound to continue. In an attempt to shift this cost-benefit analysis, Judge Alm implemented a program that sought to greatly increase the cost of violating probation conditions. Violations would now be met with swift and certain punishment. Offenders who did not comply would be detained on the spot, given a Motion to Modify hearing (usually within 72 hours), and sentenced to a short jail stay, often served on the weekends if the offender was employed (Hawken 2010).
Unlike other deterrence-orientated programs, Project HOPE is unique in that it attempts to encompass two often overlooked components of deterrence theory— swift and certain punishments (Hawken and Kleiman 2009; Kleiman 2009). With the addition of both certainty and celerity, the creators of Project HOPE argued that a reduction in recidivism could be expected (Hawken and Kleiman 2009; see also Cullen, Pratt, and Turanovic 2016). Indeed, the findings from Hawaii were quite promising, showing Project HOPE probationers were less likely to have a dirty drug test, miss an appointment, or commit a new crime (Hawken and Kleiman 2009; Hawken et al. 2016; Kleiman 2009). However, as the program made its way to the mainland, reaching 31 states in 160 locations, evidence for the program became less hopeful (Cullen, Pratt, Turanovic, and Butler in press).
While some support for Project HOPE was found in Washington State (Hamilton, Campbell, van Wormer, Kigerl, and Posey 2016), the majority of evaluations indicate that Project HOPE has weak to null effects on recidivism (Cullen et al. 2018; O’Connell, Brent, and Visher 2016; Lattimore, MacKenzie, Zajac, Dawes, Arsenault, and Tueller 2016). For example, in a random controlled trial of Project HOPE across four sites, the program was shown to be no better or worse than traditional probation approaches in reducing rearrest, probation revocation, and reconviction (Lattimore, Dawes, Tueller, MacKenzie, Zajac, and Arsenault 2016). What made this study particularly damning to Project HOPE was that the programs were implemented with high treatment fidelity and yet still did not achieve desired outcomes (Cullen et al. in press).
Another major hit to Project HOPE came about with a meta-analysis conducted by Cullen and his colleagues (2016). Examining five studies that produced 29 effect sizes, Cullen et al. (2016) concluded Project HOPE did not significantly reduce reoffending. To determine if significant findings could be hidden within the data, Cullen et al. (2016) sought to see if Project HOPE’s effectiveness varied by location or by offense type. While Project HOPE showed more promise when based in Hawaii and with drug offenders, neither of these effects reached statistical significance. Thus, Project HOPE appears to be yet one more deterrence-based approach that does not result in a reduction of criminal behavior among correctional populations.