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Decide Your Time A Randomized Trial of a Drug Testing and Graduated Sanctions Program for Probationers

NCJ Number
Criminology & Public Policy Volume: 15 Issue: 4 Dated: 2016 Pages: 1073-1102
Daniel J. O'Connell; John J. Brent; Christy A. Visher
Date Published
November 2016
30 pages

This study used a randomized controlled trial with a sample of 400 high-risk probationers to test the hypothesis that a program incorporating principles of deterrence, graduated sanctions, and coerced abstinence would reduce recidivism rates among drug-using offenders.


Using bivariate and multilevel modeling strategies, study findings showed no discernable difference across multiple drug use, probationary, and recidivism measures between those randomized into the treatment condition and those receiving standard probation. In multivariate models, probationer age, employment status, and treatment participation improved some recidivism outcomes. Programmatic and sample characteristics are discussed regarding the lack of experimental effect. The findings suggest that in designing and implementing deterrence-informed community supervision approaches, policymakers and practitioners should consider offender attributes, the addition of employment and treatment-based programs and supports, and local justice system structures. The findings of this study fit well with other emerging models of offender supervision, particularly those that match each probationer's services and programs based on individual risks and needs. Models should also recognize and address the heterogeneity of the offender population in developing supervision and service plans. Swift, certain, and fair supervision approaches for individuals under community supervision do not perform well under a "one-size-fits-all" strategy. Understanding for whom they work and under what conditions has not yet been determined. In the meantime, policymakers and practitioners should endeavor to understand the risks and needs of their local offender population and the community supports that are available to improve offender outcomes and increase public safety. (Publisher abstract modified)