Running Away: Probation Revocation Programming in St. Louis County (Mo.)
Ch. 12. in Beyond Recidivism : New Approaches to Research on Prisoner Reentry and Reintegration
As the rate of probation violations has increased due to the state’s broadened net of carceral control, state and local agencies have implemented policies and practices to try to reduce probation revocations (Hawken and Kleiman, 2009; Campbell, 2018). Some states have made systematic changes to community supervision, while others have focused on changing the ways in which agencies respond to probation violations. An overview of interventions is provided.
Several state policymakers have passed legislation mandating changes to the way in which probation violations are addressed, particularly for individuals who are convicted of nonviolent crimes. In Michigan, county probation departments are given state monetary incentives for improving probation services and reducing the probation failure rate. The department of corrections increased funding for treatment programs including employment, substance abuse, education, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. From 2001 to 2014, the probation revocation rate decreased from 69% to 52% (Phelps, 2017). Similarly, in Arizona, the state pays counties for successfully keeping individuals on probation and out of prison. Arizona has increased staffing for high-risk cases and uses shorter probationary time periods for those maintaining compliance, which has resulted in a 48% decline in probation violations (Pew Center on the States, 2011a). Finally, Kansas passed legislation to fund community treatment services in lieu of jail or prison for individuals who violate probation and has since seen a decline in the number of probation violations (Greene and Mauer, 2010).
Many states have also adopted a swift-and-certain (SAC) approach to addressing probation violations. The most prominent approach is Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement, known as Project HOPE (Campbell, 2018). Project HOPE was conceived in 2004 to address Hawaii’s consistently high rate of probation revocations. This pilot program was developed for individuals who violated their probation for drug-related violations. Project HOPE is centered on a deterrence model, focusing on swift and certain sanctions for probation violations (Nagin, 2016). The program’s model strives to consistently apply simple and straightforward tenets by providing participants with clear guidelines they are expected to follow and punishments that are not unnecessarily severe. Any probation violation, including a positive drug test, is immediately punished consistently with certainty and swiftness. The sanction for a violation is a short jail stay of a few days, and continued violations result in longer stays.
These SAC programs were initially heralded as successes, but more recent results have been mixed. For example, in an older study using a randomized controlled trial by Hawken and Kleiman (2009), they found those assigned to HOPE probation were much less likely to use drugs, miss appointments, and be arrested over the course of the one-year study. Those on HOPE probation spent only one-third of the number of days in prison as compared to those on standard probation for either revocations or new convictions. Additionally, in a quasi-experimental study, Hamilton and colleagues (2016) found that compared to non-participants, SAC participants spent less time incarcerated after a violation, were more likely to participate in treatment programs, and less likely to recidivate.
More recent research calls into question the efficacy of SAC programs. O’Connell, Brent, and Visher (2016) conducted a randomized experiment in a small city in Delaware to test whether the Decide Your Time (DYT) program’s SAC method was effective for those on probation who chronically use drugs. The study found no support that those on DYT probation were less likely to use drugs or recidivate compared to those on standard probation. Lattimore et al. (2016) conducted a randomized experiment of the SAC policy in four sites across the nation and found that HOPE probationers did not differ significantly from standard probationers in terms of recidivating. Overall, the research raises considerable concerns over using jail stays as a deterrent, which is consistent with the literature suggesting that even short stays can have deleterious effects for citizens.