Lower crime AND incarceration?

prison bed

A bunch of very effective and well-evidenced programs from the US.

I had the good fortune to attend a presentation by Mark Kleiman, given to the members of the NSW Government Better Evidence Network in late 2013. I was incredibly impressed. This was the best presentation on evidence-based criminal justice programs I’ve ever seen.

As the Ministry of Justice in the UK consults on their new approach to probation, I think it’s timely to check out the parole approaches promoted by Kleiman.

Basically, Kleiman argues that parole systems offering severe, delayed punishment are ineffective and the approaches that work are “swift-certain-not-severe”. Read his article A New Role for Parole – he says it so well I find it hard to add anything!

I’ll throw in a quote and let you research the details of these programmes yourself.

The best-publicized program built on this set of principles is the HOPE program in Honolulu, which requires random drug tests of probationers and, for those who fail, an immediate short stint (typically two days) in jail, with no exceptions. The SWIFT program in Texas, the WISP program in Seattle, the Swift and Sure program in Michigan, and Sobriety 24/7 in South Dakota all work the same way, and all have the same results: drastic reduction in illicit-drug use (or, in the case of 24/7, alcohol abuse), reoffending, revocation, and time behind bars.

There’s nothing surprising about the fact that this approach works—it’s simply the application of well-known behavioral principles to a fairly straightforward problem. What is surprising is how well it works. In Hawaii, HOPE clients are mostly longtime criminally active drug users with a mean of seventeen prior arrests. A drug treatment program would be delighted if it could get 20 percent of such a population into recovery—and most would quickly drop out and go back to drug use. But in a carefully done randomized controlled trial with 500 subjects, eight out of ten assigned to the HOPE program finished the first year of the program in compliance and drug free for at least three months, with no rearrest. Most of them either never had a missed or dirty test (which would have led to a forty-eight-hour jail stay) or had only one such incident. That suggests that more than mere deterrence is at work; HOPE clients seem to be gaining the ability to control their own behavior.