Developments and Challenges in Probation Practice: Is There a Way Forward for Establishing Effective and Sustainable Probation Systems?
A number of years ago, a judiciary-led innovation in America dubbed project HOPE, from the small island of Oahu in Hawaii, quickly became the darling of media reporting of a new, more effective future for probation. HOPE advocates argued that if offenders perceived swift and certain consequences for their behavior, that were consistent and fair, they would ‘rationally’ decide that the cost of misbehavior would outweigh the benefits. In other words, simply changing the rules to make them fairer and just would have a knock off effect on offender’s decisions and behavior. It would change probation practice that was riddled with arbitrariness and the extremes of either too harsh or too lenient response to probationer misconduct. Early findings reported dramatic reductions in reoffending (Hawken, 2010), but as is often the case, attempts at replication were less than successful. A recent multi-site randomized control evaluation concluded that project ‘HOPE seems unlikely to offer better outcomes or lower costs for broad classes of moderate-to-high–risk probationers’ (Lattimore et al., 2016: 30).
A related but much more sophisticated theoretical framework might explain why project HOPE has not been able to show impact—simply by consistently enforcing the rules. Procedural justice is now discussed and researched extensively in criminology, especially in law enforcement, but also increasingly for the design of prison regimes to improve staff-prisoner relations, and lower conflict, tension and violence. The ideas from Procedural Justice theory should receive more attention within probation practice.