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Tough Love

On Oahu there are 8,277 people on probation for felonies. The state’s probation system had been unsuccessful in getting probationers to become responsible citizens—until a revolutionary program called HOPE came along.


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Convicted of three felonies, Lori Hendrickson struggled with substance abuse while on traditional probation.

Photo: Elyse Butler and Matt Mallams

The program, aptly named HOPE, Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement, was started in October 2004. Unlike traditional probation, HOPE relies on swift and certain action when a person violates his or her probation. For example, if a drug offender submits a positive urine sample, or a sex offender fails to register for the sex-offender registry, that person will be arrested, taken to OCCC and a court hearing will be scheduled two business days later. The probationer will spend at least a few days in jail, and, as a result of the court hearing, may go into treatment, have his or her probation extended or both.

In the past six years, HOPE has proven itself to be strikingly effective. While the program isn’t perfect, its offenders have a better track record than those in regular probation. After one year in HOPE, probationers were 55 percent less likely to be arrested for a new crime, 72 percent less likely to test positive for drugs and 61 percent less likely to skip appointments with their probation officer, according to research done by Angela Hawken at Pepperdine University. In addition, for every dollar spent on HOPE, the judicial system saves $3.

Everyone we talked to says Alm has been crucial to the program’s success; if it weren’t for him, HOPE would still be a lofty idea. Armed with an obvious passion, a persuasive tone, a muscular build and a no-nonsense buzz cut, he pulled together the organizations required for the island’s new probation program. Alm met with the state public defender’s office, the prosecuting attorney’s office, POs, judges, law-enforcement agencies and the Adult Client Services branch. He listened to their concerns and, in the end, created a new probation strategy. HOPE started with 34 probationers—18 sex offenders and 16 drug offenders—from the Adult Client Services’ high-risk probation units.

“It was a group effort, and getting government agencies involved is no small feat,” says Natalie Ornellas, the supervisor of the Adult Client Services’ sex-offender unit.

“The appeal of HOPE was that there was a guaranteed sanction,” adds Cheryl Inouye, the section administrator of the high-risk units of Adult Client Services. “It had to be really streamlined, because you have to act immediately.”

The team Alm assembled vowed to implement its immediate-punishment protocol, but not without some trepidation. “This was a lot different then what had been done before. I was skeptical at first,” says Jack Tonaki, the Hawaii state public defender. Tonaki was concerned about the amount of jail time the probationers would receive when they violated. In reality, the time spent in jail is shorter than on regular probation, because there is less wait time to schedule a court hearing. It also saves the state thousands of dollars by sending fewer people to prison. The immediate, but short, stints in jail let offenders know that, each time they violate their probation in this program, the consequence is jail. Violations can be as minor as skipping an appointment with a PO, or as serious as committing a property crime or an assault. “With HOPE, with each violation, they have to be taken in,” explains Alm.

Shown with her probation officer, Kathi Fujii, Lori Hendrickson credits the HOPE program with getting her clean and saving her life.

Photo: Elyse Butler and Matt Mallams

Inouye says that some POs were hesitant about the program’s new regulations because it meant giving up their power of discretion with clients. However, POs can now more easily recommend sanctions to the courts for probationers in violation.

“It’s a team approach, it’s not me against them,” says Kathi Fujii, a senior PO in the Adult Client Services’ drug-offender unit. Before HOPE, says Fujii, probationers would often take it personally when their PO recommended that they go to prison or have their probation extended.
“With sex offenders, community safety is huge,” adds Tamasaka. “With HOPE I can go home with no concerns.”

To probationers like Hendrickson, being in HOPE feels vastly different from regular probation. In fact, 30 percent don’t violate the terms of their probation at all after entering HOPE and, for others in the program, it takes only one mistake to learn. For some like Hendrickson, it takes several times. “I hated HOPE at first because I couldn’t stay clean,” she says. Once, she even threatened to kill Fujii, her PO. “But HOPE and Kathi made me realize I can love myself, then I was willing to do whatever it took. It saved my life; I have so much gratitude,” she says. Hendrickson underwent drug treatment at Poailani and now has been clean for almost two years. She also volunteers at Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings and at Poailani.

Year-long monitoring of HOPE probationers and regular probationers has shown that those in HOPE are more successful than their counterparts. HOPE probationers were 55 percent less likely to be arrested for a new crime, 72 percent less likely to test positive for drugs, 61 percent less likely to skip appointments with their PO and 55 percent less likely to have their probation revoked.

Source: National Institute of Justice and the Pew Center on the States. Research by Dr. Angela Hawken.

With proof of HOPE’s success, the Legislature allocated the program $1.2 million after its first year. Alm and Inouye also started the drug-offender hotline. Probationers with drug-related offenses call the hotline at 6 a.m. Monday through Friday. They listen to a recording listing combinations of colors and numbers, such as Red 1 or Blue 2. Probationers who hear their code listed must submit to an observed urine test at the Circuit Court building between 6:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. Everyone starts off with red, which is listed the most often. They can move to another color when they consistently test negative. If a probationer tests positive, he or she is arrested on the spot. “We used a poker-chip methodology,” laughs Inouye, explaining that she and Ornellas originally determined the color codes for probationers using a bag of red, white and blue chips. 

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