Daniel J. O'Connell, Associate Scientist, Center for Drug and Alcohol Studies
NIJ Conference 2010
Daniel J. O'Connell: The problem we're trying to address is a lot of people don't, especially substance-using offenders, don't complete probation. And part of the reason we think for that is the nature of the probation relationship where you have a probation officer, and depending on your officer depends on how often you get a urine screen. Often on the first failed urine, very little happens — you get talked to, something like that. There's no set kind of way of dealing with folks.
What we're trying to do here to address that problem of people not completing and by not completing, you know, continuing to use drugs and commit new crimes. What we want to do is address this population in terms that they can understand.
We've set up a system of monitoring and urinalysis and drug screening that essentially guarantees that the client will get caught if they use, and we're not really focusing on the severity of punishment. We have a graduated system of punishment. The first failure is just an increase in reporting. The second failure, we add a treatment element in. The following failures are met with short periods of incarcerations and curfews that are then monitored.
So the idea is to take someone, explain to them very carefully ahead of time what will happen to them — everybody knows in the program the schedule of urinalysis and what will happen — and then enforcing those and doing it very quickly. We're following on Project HOPE and some of Mark Kleiman's work and kind of trying to implement that in a probation department on a kind of higher-level-risk offender than we think has been done before.
What this does is puts this scheduled sanctioning step in place where both the officer and the offender know what's going to happen at each step of the way. And so the officer just becomes the person who's administering the program, and then the officer works with the client on how to get through the steps, and the step is always passing the next urine screen. And the idea is that if you put enough of those together, to do this program right you have to maintain 120 days of abstinence.
Kind of underneath all of this, is that we think if you can maintain 120 days of abstinence, some other processes will begin to work — because to do that, you're going to stay away from some of the places and people that you were running with. Hopefully a little bit of that fog lifts, and, you know, some clearer thinking might entail. Maybe you'll get involved in treatment or some other types of things — might find a job. We think that 120 day window will allow these other things to start working, and we do that by focusing on the next urine screen.
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Dan O'Connell, Associate Professor, University of Delaware
Date created: July 13, 2010