Friday, April 27, 2012

Fort Worth drug court modeled after Hawaiian HOPE program

The Texas Public Policy Foundation's Vikrant Reddy recently published an op-ed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram praising Judge Mollee Westfal's new "SWIFT' court which is
modeled after the successful HOPE Court in Hawaii, which uses swift and certain sanctions to manage low-level drug offenders.

In the HOPE Court, a judge tells a probationer that instead of prison, he will be permitted to return home, where he can continue to work and provide for his family. The probationer also is told he will be called back frequently to the court without advance notice to determine whether he is complying with his probation terms. If he is not in compliance, he is placed immediately in county jail for the weekend.

There is no additional warning or protracted trial process -- only swift and certain consequences.
A HOPE probationer offered drugs at a party on a Thursday knows that if he is summoned for a random drug test the following morning and fails, he will lose the opportunity to relax with family and friends over the weekend.

The HOPE model understands that people respond to immediate and commensurate punishments like this better than to longer and more severe punishments that seem tenuous and remote.

After Hawaii introduced HOPE in 2004, the rate of missed and failed drug tests dropped by nearly 80 percent. A probationer in HOPE is 55 percent less likely to be arrested for a new crime than one who is not in HOPE. As a result, HOPE probationers are sentenced to about 50 percent fewer days of jail time.

Attorneys and probation officers were initially skeptical about being called into court for every minor probation violation, but the volume of work per offender has decreased over time.

Social scientists have long understood that people respond best to immediate punishments. Cesare Beccaria, an 18th-century thinker who is regarded as the founder of modern criminology, argued that swiftness and certainty in punishment are more important to deterrence than severity.

Beccaria, who was quoted by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, was deeply influential at the time of the American founding. Modern research on human behavior has validated his time-honored criminological theory.

But it is worth setting aside all of the complex academic literature and realizing that SWIFT-style policies are just a return to common sense. Any parent could explain why HOPE works just as well as any professor.
Revoked felony probationers currently account for more than one-third of Texas' prison population and nearly half of the state jail population.

Texans pay approximately $600 million to incarcerate these individuals, but if probation were improved, the state would be able to reduce these costs and prioritize existing prison space for violent offenders who most need to be taken off the streets. Reform of this sort could also improve public safety and return low-level criminal offenders to productive, law-abiding lives.

Hawaii was a useful model for Tarrant County. It may soon be that Tarrant County is a useful model for the rest of Texas.
See earlier coverage from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from when the SWIFT program launched last summer.


Jim Stott said...

Drug Courts and other specialty courts have proven their value in reducing criminal behavior and, at the same time, saving millions of dollars in incarceration costs. While each program may have their own special twist in programming, the end results are generally well worth the costs.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jim, et. al., if you never looked specifically at Hawaii's HOPE program, it's an especially clever and successfull variant.

Jim Stott said...

Will have to read more about it. Thanks....

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jim.

Hawaii's Hope is great, but each Jurisdiction has to make their Specialty Court work for them with their staff.

So long as:

1. the 10 principles are adhered to as closely as possible,

2. there is an active prosecutor,

3. there is an active defense attorney,

4. probation personnel and treatment personnel have a good relationship (it's better if the same treatment provider provides the service instead of multiple providers, same with probation officer - same probation officer, not many different officers - even with general supervision of the offender without specialty courts, it has been proven the relationship the officer has with the defendant makes a huge difference in a successful outcome),

5. non-adversarial approach all the way around (everybody knowing each others role and respecting same),

6. swift sanctions, and not allowing the defendant to "take jail time" (defendant has been doing what he/she wants when he/she wants for too long and allowing a defendant to have his/her way only perpetuates the problem, he/she will never really get off the docket until there is real accountability),

7. More rewards than punishment. Praise is what reinforces pro-social behavior. Praise is a form of pro-social modeling.

8. A Judge that really cares and believes change is possible for the defendant.

Do those eight things above and I promise you change happens, less people go to prison, more people pay taxes, more restitution is collected, Courthouse personnel get along better, and the list could go on and on regarding positive outcomes.