When Bad News Arrives: Project HOPE in a Post-Factual World

Date01 February 2018
Published date01 February 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2018, Vol. 34(1) 13 –34
© The Author(s) 2018
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986217750424
When Bad News Arrives:
Project HOPE in a Post-
Factual World
Francis T. Cullen1, Travis C. Pratt1,
Jillian J. Turanovic2, and Leah Butler1
On the basis of limited empirical evidence, advocates of Project HOPE (Hawaii’s
Opportunity Probation with Enforcement) have succeeded in spreading the model
to a reported 31 states and 160 locations. A recent randomized control experiment
across four sites has revealed negative results: no overall effect on recidivism. In this
context, we examine how prominent advocates of Project HOPE have coped with
the arrival of this “bad news.” Despite null findings from a “gold standard” evaluation
study, advocates continue to express confidence in the HOPE model and to support
its further implementation. The risk thus exists that Project HOPE is entering a post-
factual world in which diminishing its appeal—letalone its falsification—is not possible.
It is the collective responsibility of corrections researchers to warn policy makers
that the HOPE model is not a proven intervention and may not be effective in many
agencies. It is also our responsibility to create a science of community supervision
that can establish more definitively best practices in this area.
deterrence, offender supervision, parole, probation, Project HOPE
In 2004, First Circuit Court Judge Steve S. Alm envisioned, designed, and then led the
implementation of Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement program—now
commonly known as Project HOPE. Judge Alm was troubled that so many offenders
did not comply with their conditions of probation, failing drug tests or not showing up
1University of Cincinnati, OH, USA
2Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Francis T. Cullen, School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, P.O. Box 210389, Cincinnati, OH
45221-0389, USA.
Email: cullenft@ucmail.uc.edu
750424CCJXXX10.1177/1043986217750424Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeCullen et al.
14 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 34(1)
for such tests. After repeated violations with few consequences, the time would come
when an exasperated judge would “lower the boom” by revoking their probation and
sending them to prison. Alm reasoned that a commonsensical solution would be to
sanction each violation immediately—that is, to engage in swift and certain punish-
ment. Another key insight was to resist the temptation to impose severe penalties.
Instead, sanctions would be modest (a few days in jail) and graduated (increasing as
violations increased). All offenders would be warned at the outset of their probation
about the sanctioning system, and all would be punished the same—that is, fairly.
Project HOPE thus was erected on the principles of swift–certain–fair punishment—
referred to by the acronym SCF probation. Criminologically, SCF probation (or parole)
is based on Cesare Beccaria’s classical school, assuming that sanctions that were
imposed swiftly, with certainty, and with fairness would deter misconduct and motivate
compliance. By contrast, under the HOPE model, rehabilitation was de-emphasized, to
be given only to those who asked for it or for those who failed multiple drug tests
(Hawken, 2010b; Hawken & Kleiman, 2009).
Project HOPE might have remained a local innovation that did not migrate to the
mainland, but two factors, among others (Duriez, Cullen, & Manchak, 2014), coalesced
to transform the program into a national and potentially international movement. First,
evaluation research indicated that Project HOPE worked to reduce failed drug tests
and arrests (Hawken & Kleiman, 2009). The intervention could claim to be “evidenced
based.” Second, three special people were prominently involved in the program’s
assessment—Judge Alm, the inventor, and two evaluators, Angela Hawken and Mark
A. R. Kleiman. Alm was important because he is charismatic and committed to spread-
ing the good news about his Project HOPE. Hawken and Kleiman are not typical
armchair criminologists, but rather policy analysts now both on the faculty at the
Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University. Their vitas indicate
that Hawken was trained in economics at the University of the Witwatersrand in
Johannesburg, South Africa, prior to receiving a PhD in policy analysis at the RAND
Graduate School. Kleiman, a noted public intellectual, earned a doctorate in public
policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Together and independently, this trinity of HOPE advocates was persuasive in trum-
peting the intervention. Judge Alm could tell stories about offenders who attributed
their reform—indeed, saving their lives—to his program. Hawken and Kleiman had the
scholarly expertise to show that the intervention was effective, based on indisputable
deterrence principles, and a solution to broken probation and parole systems. They were
masterful in explaining the value of the SCF program to policy makers and, especially
in the case of Hawken, of supplying technical expertise to implement programs. In
2014, it was estimated that Project HOPE—with the “H” changed to “Honest” when it
moved to the mainland—was in 40 jurisdictions (Pearsall, 2014). A more recent esti-
mate was 160 jurisdictions, including 31 states (Alm, 2016; Bartels, 2016). International
interest in HOPE is percolating as well (Bartels, 2016; Oleson, 2016).
Project HOPE advocates were so effective that few criminologists expressed reser-
vations about the intervention (for exceptions, see Clear & Frost, 2014; Cullen,
Manchak, & Duriez, 2014; Duriez et al., 2014; Klingele, 2015). The acceptance or

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