Probation in Portland

It’s cheaper to watch offenders closely when they’re not in prison than it is to pay their room & board.

Peter Korn has a well-crafted story in the Portland Tribune about the travails of probation officers and the promise of quick and predictable sanctions. He quotes unnamed “experts” as claiming that Hawaii’s HOPE program is “expensive” and doubting that it can be taken to scale. In fact, the program saves five incarceration dollars for every supervision dollar it spends, and in Honolulu it’s already operating at scale.

Korn reports that Multnomah County is paying $8-$15 per day for electronic position monitoring. That’s way more expensive than it needs to be; using “passive” monitoring, where if the offender is out of position the fact is automatically reported to his probation officer the next day, a GPS anklet shouldn’t cost more than $4/day.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

10 thoughts on “Probation in Portland”

  1. Everyone thinks that anyone with a brain must agree with them–liberals, conservatives, libertarian–you name it.

    They are all equally convinced that anyone who disagrees with them is a worthless excuse for a human being.

    Any participation on my part won't change the political system in any way or how others choose to participate.

    Why should I care about politics at all?

  2. Be Prepared, because that isn't true. Political opinion does change. And while we may never feel like we're "getting through" to anyone, we are communicating and that's important. I've seen my own views change in ways that may have had more to do with the process of organizing my ideas so to present them in a clear way to others. The process itself is fruitful.

    On topic, wouldn't even $10 a day be a fraction of the cost of lock-up? Not to mention the negative, behavior-reinforcing effects of the lock-up itself, as Mark has eloquently described. I work at a continuation high school, and the hardest thing I face with students is breaking through the almost cult-like mindset of the "street". It has its own code, language, dress, etc. and destroys integrity, character and "humanity". Incarceration is the worst possible thing for them in this sense.

  3. Everyone thinks that anyone with a brain must agree with them–liberals, conservatives, libertarian–you name it.

    They are all equally convinced that anyone who disagrees with them is a worthless excuse for a human being.

    Any participation on my part won’t change the political system in any way or how others choose to participate.

    Why should I care about politics at all?

  4. Do we have a new type of severely depressed passive-aggressive troll?

    The answer to your last question, if you are still listening, is a version of Trotsky on the revolution: "You may not be interested in politics – but politics is interested in you".

  5. Hi Mark,

    I'm sort of surprised that HOPE-type quick-response lockups are competing with other sources of overcrowded prisons. A bunch of nonviolent already-parole-qualified, locked up for two or three days each … do they really need a real bed in a real prison? I can't imagine they have the time or the incentive to break out, riot, form gang alliances, assault the guards, etc. They don't need a library, exercise yard, shop, infirmary. And they're already wearing GPS anklets and (in some sense) "cooperating" with the system.

    I would think that a HOPE sentence could be served in something so low on the minimum-security scale that it's not really a prison. It'd be like the waiting room at the DMV, but with bunk beds, a few extra guards, and a GPS perimeter Get a party tent, some port-a-potties, some chain link fence, and folding chairs and cots, and you could set up 200 HOPE beds in the prison parking lot.

  6. BM:

    There's certainly some deterrent value to the theater of real jail. While strip searches, de-lousing, heavy centralized security infrastructure, etc are primarily in place as a result of the practical requirements of locking people up for moderate periods of time very forcefully against their will, in a HOPE type program they might serve as immediate reminders of the nastiness with which the offender is flirting. Last time I bailed a friend out he was __really__ motivated to get out before being internally processed, which would include the strip search and the de-lousing.

    Considering that in a HOPE style arrangement these things aren't directly needed we might be able to tune the program some by inventing mechanisms to directly address the requirements of pain theater, I suspect effort is better spent on deploying the program as it exists.

  7. I'm all in favor of the lowest-security facility available for short stays. Right now, in most places, that's a jail, but an abandoned motel should work just fine.

  8. The truth is that we really don't know whether some sort of lower-security facility (e.g., motel, halfway house, etc.) would work as well for deterrent purposes as a jail bed. It would be very interesting to do a HOPE replication comparing short stays in jail to short stays in some sort of alternative. A big buzzword in community corrections and parole practice is "graduated sanctions". My only qualm with this is that some sanctions I see being used along the graduated continuum really do not appear to me to be real sanctions at all (e.g., yet another warning, increased curfew, increased reporting to an agent). I don't think there's anything magical about a jail cell, but I do think that the sanction has to be real an have some teeth to it, to the point that it disrupts the criminal's lifestyle (in a certain and swift manner of course). But we don't know. It's definitely worth a try.

Comments are closed.