The Gift that Keeps Giving: Application of Contingency Management in Community Supervision Settings
Contingency management interventions applied in substance abuse treatment typically revolve around the administration of positive reinforcement (Prendergast et al., 2015). However, holding individuals accountable by withholding reinforcement or introducing sanctions is usually incorporated into the treatment structure. Some evaluations of drug treatment and CM strategies have focused exclusively on the role of sanctions in influencing outcomes. In general, research in this area is mixed, but shows improvement in compliance when administered in a way that is consistent with the Swift, Certain, and Fair (SCF) principles of punishment (Grommon, Cox, Davidson, & Bynum, 2013; Hawken & Kleiman, 2009; Steiner, Makarios, & Meade, 2012). One of the most well-known examples of SCF application is the Hawaii Opportunity Probation and Enforcement (HOPE) program, which imposes brief jail sentences largely in an effort to decrease drug abstinence. Focusing on individuals who were higher risk to violate terms of probation, Hawken and Kleiman (2009) found that HOPE participants were less likely to have positive drug screens, miss fewer appointments, and have probation revoked at the follow-up periods (i.e., 3, 6, 12 months). These positive outcomes persisted years later in a recent follow-up study of HOPE (Hawken et al., 2016). For example, at the 10-year follow-up, the original HOPE participants had an average of 0.19 new charges compared with an average of 0.78 for those who received traditional probation. Similarly, Grommon and colleagues (2013) found that parolees subjected to jail sentences as a consequence of positive drug screens demonstrated lower recidivism and abstinence rates over an 18-month follow-up relative to their counterparts who were exposed to treatment as usual.
It is worth noting that the same findings have not been replicated in subsequent evaluations of the SCF model. More specifically, Cullen et al. (2017) underscore the weak to null effect of deterrence-based strategies based on minimal differences between the treatment groups versus control groups. In some cases, the treatment group also received cognitive behavioral therapy, so it is possible that the observed difference in outcomes is attributable to a treatment effect as opposed to a deterrent effect (Cullen, Pratt, & Turanovic, 2017). Therefore, it is very unlikely that SCF models will achieve remarkable reductions in recidivism.
In general, the substance abuse treatment literature provides a persuasive argument for incorporating CM strategies into routine structures. However, behavioral practices have been studied more generally as opposed to understanding the effective components of the system. Accordingly, little information has been gained about how to successfully transfer CM practices into similarly structured justice settings.
The final research question examined the potency of celerity (i.e., swiftness) with respect to receiving incentives, sanctions, or a response in general. Since the data came from a secondary dataset, information was not collected on time that passed between a behavioral occurrence and response. However, prior research has noted the importance of providing a timely response to connect behaviors and consequences (Paternoster, 2010). It is important to underscore the difficulty in collecting information on when behaviors exactly occur if not in a controlled setting and how quickly a probation officer can deliver a response. There is a higher likelihood that the time a response is awarded (i.e., incentive) or imposed (i.e., sanction) will be tracked for ongoing evaluative purposes. Therefore, a proxy measure for the average time that passed between probationers receiving: (1) incentives; (2) sanctions; or (3) any response was created to capture celerity within the context of a CMS.
Across all four outcomes, the average time between variables did not emerge as significant predictors of recidivism. Even though the variables did not approach significance, it could be that it matters more about the proportion of times an individual actually receives an incentive or sanction relative to the possible opportunities. The proposed concept would examine consistency across departments and staff, meaning that when given an opportunity to provide an incentive or sanction, staff did so. Prior research has documented the important of consistency in approaches, especially sanctions, to deter future undesirable behavior (Hawken & Kleiman, 2009; Paternoster, 1989). A second possibility is that the perceived likelihood of receiving a specific response (i.e., certainty) matters more than actual receipt, as prior research has demonstrated (Paternoster, 1987). Akers (1977) also notes the importance of anticipated responses in the acquisition of new behaviors. When responses are provided with swiftness and certainty, there appears to be a perception that application is fair and just, which decrease the likelihood of rule infractions (Paternoster, Brame, Bachman, & Sherman, 1997).