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Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE): Further Evaluation of Swift and Certain Sanctions

David L. Myers, PhD, University of New Haven

In recent decades, concerns over rising prison populations, high monetary costs of secure corrections, persistent recidivism rates, and adverse impacts of incarceration strategies on families and communities have fueled efforts to develop alternative sanctions that do not compromise community safety. Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) is a community supervision program for substance abusing probationers, particularly those with longer histories of drug use and extensive involvement with the criminal justice system (Hawken, 2010; Hawken et al., 2016; Hawken & Kleiman, 2009). In contrast to many contemporary criminal justice strategies, rather than focusing on the severity of punishment as a deterrent, HOPE seeks to increase the swiftness and certainty of relatively modest sanctions. Evaluation results from HOPE research have been supportive, leading to similar approaches spreading throughout the country.

Program Summary

The main goals of HOPE are to reduce drug use, recidivism, and incarceration (Hawken, 2010; HOPE targets probationers who, based on drug use history and prior involvement with the criminal justice system, are at high risk of failing probation or returning to prison. HOPE begins with a public warning/notification hearing in front of a judge, who makes expectations of compliance clear to the probationer. The judge communicates that justice system personnel will assist the probationer with being successful, but violations of probation conditions will not be tolerated, and each violation will result in an immediate brief stay in jail.

HOPE offenders are assigned to a color group that corresponds to a required frequency of drug testing. They are required to call an automated drug testing hotline every morning, and if their color is announced on the hotline, they are required to report to the courthouse for drug testing. Probationers initially are tested at least six times per month; over time, the frequency of drug testing may lessen. Probationers are rewarded for compliance, as negative drug tests result in an assignment of a new color associated with less-frequent testing.

When violations occur, sanctions happen quickly. Positive drug tests result in an immediate trip to jail. If a probationer fails to appear for a drug test, a bench warrant is served by police. Other probation violations are handled by a probation officer, who completes a “Motion to Modify Probation” form and sends it to the judge. A hearing on the motion typically is held within 72 hours of the filing, with the probationer confined pending the hearing.

HOPE is different from most diversion and drug court programs in that it does not attempt to impose drug treatment on every probationer. Instead, an offender’s need for treatment is based on observed behavior signals, such as positive drug tests. Probationers are placed in drug treatment only if they continue to test positive for drug use or if they request a treatment referral.


Evaluation Results

Initial research by Hawken and Kleiman (2009) used a randomized experimental design to evaluate the effectiveness of HOPE. Participants eligible for the study included all probationers, men and women, who were over 18 years of age and under community supervision by the Adult Client Services probation unit in Honolulu, Hawaii. The study group was randomized to either HOPE or a treatment-as-usual control group, producing two equivalent groups. Data collection occurred over a 1-year period, from October 2007 through October 2008.

Hawken and Kleiman (2009) found HOPE participants were significantly less likely to skip or miss appointments with probation officers, as compared to probationers in the control group. In addition, HOPE probationers were significantly less likely to have a positive urine test and to be arrested for a new crime. Finally, those in HOPE were significantly less likely to have their probation revoked, and they spent an average of 48% fewer days incarcerated. 

Following the original evaluation, HOPE expanded and received increasing attention from policymakers and the national media. It was not clear, however, whether initial and relatively short-term effects would persist over time. A subsequent long-term follow-up evaluation sought to document the modifications made to HOPE following the original evaluation. In addition, the new study compared outcomes for probationers assigned to HOPE in 2004 to a matched group of comparison probationers who were supervised under probation-as-usual, and also compared long-term outcomes for HOPE probationers with offenders randomly assigned to probation-as-usual in the experiment of HOPE that was launched in 2007.

Data were collected through surveys, onsite observations, and interviews with key HOPE stakeholders, as well as administrative data sources (Hawken et al., 2016). Initial findings revealed program modification over time to include early termination as a possible reward granted to probationers with a demonstrated history of compliance on HOPE. In addition, technical violations, with no aggravating circumstances, could result in a non-jail sanction, and HOPE became integrated into a continuum of supervision that includes conventional probation for low-risk offenders, HOPE for high-risk offenders and for failures from conventional probation, and drug court for offenders failing in HOPE.

Results of the comparative analyses indicated HOPE probationers performed better than those supervised under routine supervision. They were significantly less likely to be revoked and returned to prison, and less likely to commit new crimes during the follow-up period. Reductions in drug crimes accounted for most of the differences, and HOPE probationers were more likely to receive successful early terminations from probation.

Probationers’ perception of risk of punishment for a violation, as estimated from a probationer survey, was higher than probation officers’ estimates, which in turn were higher than estimates of true risk. As the real deterrent value of punishment risk depends on perceived rather than actual risk, HOPE appears to benefit from a reputation effect that exceeds the certainty delivered in practice.

Finally, survey results suggested that probation officers support HOPE and believe it makes them more effective at their job, with probationers being more likely to succeed. However, probation officers also reported differences in how HOPE is implemented and how it is described in policies and procedures. While positive drug tests are referred to the court as intended, discretion is exercised more often in deciding how to respond to missed appointments (including missed random drug tests). As HOPE relies on swift and certain sanctions, this finding points to the importance of closer monitoring of implementation fidelity.

Overall, evaluation results from HOPE and research findings from similar programs suggest swift and certain sanctions (which are not overly severe) can be effective in influencing the behavior of offenders supervised in the community. Fidelity of program implementation is an important consideration, along with ongoing data collection, use of incentives and graduated sanctions, and evaluation of offender outcomes. Finally, researcher-practitioner partnerships, collaboration among stakeholders, and dissemination of research findings are further illustrated in this example of being an evidence-based program.




Hawken, A. (2010). “HOPE for probation: How Hawaii improved behavior with high-probability, low-severity sanctions.” The Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, 4(3).


Hawken, A. & Kleiman, M. (2009). Managing Drug Involved Probations with Swift and Certain Sanctions: Evaluating Hawaii’s HOPE. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.


Hawken, A., Kulick, J., Smith, K., Mei, J., Zhang, Y., Jarman, S., Yu, T., Carson, C., & Vial, T. (2016). HOPE II: A follow-up to Hawaii’s HOPE Evaluation. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.




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