On July 22nd, the Hawaii Department of Public Safety and Hawaii State Judiciary, in partnership with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, announced they will be piloting a new pretrial program for drug-using offenders. Modeled after Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE), HOPE Pretrial seeks to apply the same principled approach to pretrial coordinated care that enjoyed robust post-sentencing success.

HOPE was implemented in 2004 in light of persistently high probation failure rates. Like many states, a great deal of Hawaii’s probationers faced seemingly-random terms of release and inconsistent supervision and enforcement. Incorporating functional elements of a drug court and an intensive supervision probation (ISP) program, Judge Steven Alm proposed a post-disposition case management strategy that provided clearly articulated terms and increased monitoring and substance testing of high-risk probationers. The innovative component, however, was that offenders were not sentenced to treatment for drug or alcohol abuse. Each probationer was free to choose whether or not to seek rehabilitative programming with the explicit caveat that each failure of a random drug or alcohol test would lead to certain and increasingly harsher sanctions, including incarceration. Probation officers were also trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing regardless of caseload. A 2009 National Institute of Justice evaluation of HOPE found that participants were 83% less likely to produce a positive urinalysis after 3 months in the program (92.4% after 6 months), 61% less likely to miss a supervisory appointment (whereas the comparison group experienced an increase in missed appointments), and were 71% less likely to have their probation revoked after participation in the program.

HOPE’s success has been attributed to the proportional, graduated sanctions, the certainty and swiftness of the punishment delivered, and the placing of the onus of rehabilitation on the offender. By focusing on the offender’s abuse of drugs and alcohol, the program addresses a factor that contributes to their criminogenic needs and may present a barrier to treatment. Furthermore, the program empowers the offender to take personal responsibility for their own recovery. Substance abuse programs that are used as a coercive sanction (those lacking “buy in” from the offender) are less likely to achieve the desired outcomes. While the administrators of HOPE Pretrial must be wary of their well-intentioned intervention turning into a net-widening, enforcement-oriented supervisory program, the extension of evidence-based practice that aims to provide defendants with risk-appropriate alternatives is laudable.