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|October 26, 2011
Director of Communications
HOPE Grant Brings Innovative Approach to High-Risk Offenders
Through National Recidivism Reduction Project
The Massachusetts Probation Service and the Massachusetts Trial Court were awarded an $849,000 grant to reduce recidivism among high-risk probationers using an approach to curbing criminal activity which has proven successful in Hawaii where recidivism was reduced by 50 percent.
Massachusetts is one of four national recipients of the Honest Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) project grant funded by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The Essex Superior and Salem District courts' Recidivism Reduction and Efficiency Initiative is the focus of the project which institutes immediate sanctions and features an independent study to measure the initiative's success. The other recipient communities are Clackamas County, Oregon; Tarrant County, Texas; and the State of Arkansas.
As part of the HOPE project, offenders placed on probation will receive a warning from the judge that any violation of the conditions of probation will be met with "swift and certain sanctions." For example, if a probationer fails to meet with his or her Probation Officer, a warrant will be issued and the offender will be brought before the court. If an offender—ordered by the court to abstain from alcohol or drugs— tests positive, the offender will be brought before a judge. This intensive supervision will be coupled with positive reinforcement such as acknowledgement of an offender's success and timely sanctions. Offenders will be tracked over a two-year study period.
Salem District Court Chief Probation Officer Dolores Gormley said the "immediacy of the response to offender non-compliance" will keep offenders on track and out of trouble. Gormley is serving as a Probation team leader with Essex Superior Court Chief Probation Officer Martin Wallace. Judge Jack Lu of Essex Superior Court is the lead justice and Judge Robert Brennan, First Justice of Salem District Court, is the co-lead on this project. Probation and the courts are also collaborating with Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, Salem Police Chief Paul Tucker, and Committee for Public Counsel Services Attorney-in-Charge Rebecca Epstein-Whitehill.
"Swift and certain punishment for violating terms of probation sends a consistent message to probationers about personal responsibility and accountability. The consequences are real," Gormley stated. "Word spreads fast among the population we service. Accountability is an important tool in changing offender behavior. Add the ability to do so quickly and the impact on offender behavior is much more effective."
She added, "The offender is also given the opportunity to understand that there is a chance to take back control of their lives if they work with their Probation Officer."
Wallace, Probation team leader, said the project will enhance probation and revolutionize the process.
"This project will help us to do probation differently by using unique tools, in-depth analysis as well as assist us in better understanding and prioritizing our resources," Wallace said. "A judge disposes of the case and the Probation Department follows up on a regular basis. When you interact with people more regularly, you reduce recidivism."
He added, "Evidence says if we are not sanctioning people, it leads to bigger sentences down the road."
Judge Lu, the project's lead justice, describes HOPE as probation supervision by judges and enforced by probation officers.
"Each offender will be followed closely and objectively. This as an advantage of the integration of judicial and probation functions," Judge Lu said. "It is a product of close cooperation and collaboration of the District and Superior courts."
He added, "The Department of Justice apparently appreciated that this is a fast-track, high priority program implemented by a highly professional and disciplined team of individuals and agencies."