Criminal Justice Reform | Open Philanthropy Project
Note: This writeup represents the state of our investigation into criminal justice reform as of May 2014, after some preliminary investigation. Since then, our views have changed noticeably, but they remain preliminary, and we have hired a Program Officer to lead our work in this cause going forward. If you have additional information on this cause that you feel we should consider, please feel free to get in touch.

In a nutshell

  • What is the state of our investigation into U.S. criminal justice reform? We have completed our medium-depth investigation of criminal justice reform.1 The investigation has continued to progress and we have made some grants in this area. However, we have not yet chosen criminal justice reform (or any other cause) as a long-term program area. In order to learn substantially more from this investigation we believe that we would need to commit to this cause for the medium-term (i.e., several years), so we have paused this investigation until we are ready to select U.S. public policy causes for that level of commitment.
  • Why are we making criminal justice reform grants? Criminal justice reform seems like a particularly promising area because (a) we have identified a set of people who are promoting a particular viewpoint that is both appealing to us and appears underfunded, meaning that finding initial promising giving opportunities took less work in this area than we’d expect it would in many others; and (b) as evidenced by a wave of reform packages in over twenty states and the recent confluence of conservative and progressive interest in reform, this issue seems to strongly stand out from most political issues in terms of political momentum and tractability.
  • What is the problem? The United States incarcerates a larger proportion of its residents than almost any other country in the world and still has the highest level of criminal homicide in the developed world.2 While confounding factors impede rigorous analysis of incarceration’s effect on the crime rate, it has been argued (and seems probably correct) to us that, while initial increases in the incarceration rate may have reduced crime, a rate this high does not have large benefits for public safety and represents indiscriminate incarceration of offenders whether or not prison is the appropriate punishment. In particular, it seems plausible that the United States incarcerates too many low-risk offenders for too long. Incarceration has large fiscal costs. We believe that it also has large human and economic costs. Community corrections (such as probation and parole), which are one of the main alternatives to incarceration, may also need improvement, as evidenced by the 40% revocation rate for persons on probation.3
  • What are possible interventions? Proposals for criminal justice reform can broadly be divided into two categories. Front-end reforms affect individuals at their first point of contact with the criminal justice system. Back-end reforms affect individuals after they have already entered the criminal justice system.

    Strategies to promote these reforms include policy research, legislative advocacy, technical assistance to policymakers or practitioners, litigation, communication and public education, direct services, and pilot projects.

    Criminal justice reform is a broad field and we have so far focused on the particular set of interventions that initially got us interested in this cause — interventions that broadly seek to reduce incarceration while having neutral or even positive effects on public safety, by focusing prison beds on higher-risk offenders and improving community corrections (such as probation and parole) so that offenders for whom prison is not necessary are adequately supervised.

  • Who else is working on it?
    Several foundations and the United States federal government are working on various aspects of criminal justice reform. Our perception is that organizations can roughly be divided into those that frame reform in terms of the rights of defendants and people in prison and organizations making a case that focuses on improving public safety and reducing public spending on incarceration by saving jail and prison beds for high risk offenders (and thus seeks to appeal to conservatives as well as progressives).
  • How much of an impact could we have? We are very uncertain about how big of a humanitarian impact we could expect for a given level of funding for criminal justice reform. Based on claims in states that have already adopted reform packages, we would guess that reducing prison populations by about 10% while having a neutral or slightly positive impact on public safety could be a reasonable near-term goalpost. In the longer term, we’d guess that much larger reductions might be possible if community corrections are strengthened and the political dialogue around criminal justice policy continues to improve.


Published: May 2014

Why we are interested in criminal justice reform

We initially became interested in criminal justice reform because policy generalists we spoke with during our broad exploration of U.S. politics and policy advocacy indicated to us that it was an unusually promising — and in particular, unusually tractable — cause.4 Specifically, we heard from multiple sources that the combination of the adverse U.S. fiscal situation, declining crime rates, and emerging conservative interest in an issue historically supported by progressives may have created a “unique moment” for criminal justice reform with a limited window.5

Upon investigation, we learned that more than two dozen states, supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project (PSPP) and the federal government’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, have passed criminal justice reform legislative packages since 2007.6 We are unaware of any equally important U.S. public policy cause that can match this extensive wave of reforms nor of any other policy organization deeply involved in so much recent legislation, which reinforced our view that criminal justice reform stands out for its political momentum. The strong possibility of observing substantial policy change in the short-term, combined with the possibility to work in multiple states, suggested that criminal justice reform might be a particularly good opportunity to learn about policy advocacy.

Criminal justice reform also stands out because we quickly identified (a) a set of innovative ideas that seemed potentially high impact and underfunded and (b) a set of researchers, specialists, and technical assistance providers ready to promote these ideas with additional funding. In particular, we learned about certain proposals such as making responses to offenses more “swift and certain,” improving community corrections (for example, by using electronic monitoring or improved risk assessment), designing regulations for cannabis in Washington and Colorado (where recreational use is now legal according to state law), and reducing the prevalence of binge drinking and alcohol use disorders, that aim to reduce incarceration with a neutral or positive effect on public safety. Mark Kleiman (more) and Angela Hawken (more) are academics who work on these types of policies and we believe each could expand their work with more funding.

The problem

The United States is burdened both by a very high incarceration rate and by a high (but declining) crime rate. In 2012, there were about 1.5 million Americans in prison and 750 thousand in jails, for a total of about 2.2 million incarcerated Americans.7 The United States incarcerates more residents as a proportion of its population than almost any other country in the world.8 The incarceration rate is not necessarily driven entirely by criminal justice policy, however; the United States may also have more crime than other developed countries. The U.S. homicide rate is more than twice as high as the OECD average of 2.23 homicides per 100,000 people.9

graph of crime and incarceration
(A larger version of this graph is available here).

As shown by the above figure, since the 1990s, violent crime in the United States has fallen dramatically while incarceration rates have continued to increase.10 Rising incarceration rates in the context of falling crime could be taken to suggest that the U.S. incarcerates too many residents, but it is also possible that increased incarceration contributed to declining crime by incapacitating those most likely to commit crimes. Criminologists have attempted to disentangle these factors, but confounding factors impede rigorous analysis and we have not seen good studies nailing down the high incarceration rate’s effect on crime.11 Still, it has been argued (and seems probably correct) to us that, while initial increases in incarceration may have reduced crime, at the current margin, higher incarceration does not have large benefits for public safety.12 In particular, we’d guess that sentences in the United States are too long and too inconsistently applied and that strong community supervision (combined with the threat of short stints in jail) is not adequately used as an alternative to incarceration for low-risk offenders.

We have not attempted to carefully quantify the costs of the high incarceration rate but we believe those costs to be quite high along many dimensions:

  • The fiscal costs to states and the federal government13
  • The suffering of people who are incarcerated.
  • The economic costs of lost earnings by those prisoners who would have been employed had they not been incarcerated.14
  • Economic costs due to decreased earnings by ex-offenders after they are released from prison.15
  • The costs to the families and communities of those who are incarcerated. As of 2010, 2.7 million minor children had a parent behind bars, potentially leading to a host of problems.16 Additionally, as of 2007, one in nine young black men was behind bars.17 We’d guess that high incarceration rates might have particularly negative effects in communities where incarceration has become a normative experience, potentially impacting family formation. The costs of crime may also be concentrated in black communities.18

Possible interventions

Many criminal justice reforms fall into one of two categories. Front-end reforms affect individuals at their first point of contact with the criminal justice system. Back-end reforms affect individuals after they have already entered the criminal justice system. Some examples of front-end reforms include reducing or improving the use of pretrial detention, increasing the use of alternatives to incarceration, decriminalizing some activities (such as the possession or sale of drugs), improving the quality of legal representation for criminal defendants, changing policing policies, and shortening sentences. Some examples of back-end reforms include increasing eligibility for parole, minimizing the frequency or severity of probation and parole revocations (for example by increasing the swiftness and certainty of responses), and improving community corrections to try to minimize recidivism.

Additionally, improving prison conditions may reduce the suffering of those in prison and some policy reforms outside of the criminal justice system (such as reducing lead exposure or fetal alcohol exposure) may be able to reduce crime.

We have not deeply vetted the entire range of policy changes proposed by criminal justice advocates and do not have a firm position on which reforms are most beneficial. That said, because we believe that crime and incarceration both have high costs, we are most enthusiastic about reforms that seem to reduce incarceration while improving (or at least maintaining) public safety.


Ideas promoted by Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a researcher who studies and promotes approaches to crime control with the potential to simultaneously reduce crime and incarceration.19 Dr. Kleiman also worked as a consultant to advise the state of Washington on implementing the legalization of recreational cannabis.20 We think that a set of reforms propounded by Dr. Kleiman, some of which have been studied by Angela Hawken, seem particularly promising. These reforms include:

  • Swift and certain sanctions exemplified by Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program. Mark Kleiman, Angela Hawken, and other criminal justice specialists believe that misbehavior can be deterred more strongly with less punishment if punishment is distributed more consistently and closer to the time the offender misbehaves.21 The current criminal justice system (particularly the probation and parole systems) attempts to use harsh punishments to make up for the inconsistency of enforcement. Advocates of swift and certain responses believe this approach is ill-suited to human psychology and particularly to the psychology of those most likely to commit crimes, who are likely to have trouble with long-term planning. The last fifteen years of a twenty year sentence, these advocates believe, have very high cost but very low additional deterrent effect.22 Swift and certain sanctions aim to improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system and to decrease crime with less punishment.

    In HOPE, Hawaii Judge Steven Alm implemented a version of swift and certain sanctions by frequently, yet randomly, drug testing probationers and, instead of revoking those who failed from probation altogether, sentencing them immediately to a jail stay of a few days.23 Initial evidence from a randomized controlled trial of HOPE, which we have not vetted, was very positive, though some have expressed uncertainty about whether the program is replicable and whether its effects will be sustained over the long-run.24 Studies of other programs implementing swift and certain sanctions may have also shown promising results.25

    Dr. Kleiman believes that, despite the initial success of HOPE and other programs, there is a lack of funding for research on and implementation of swift and certain sanctions.26

  • GPS position monitoring. GPS position monitoring has the potential to reduce both crime and incarceration by enabling law enforcement to closely supervise offenders without putting them behind bars.27 For under five dollars a day, offenders could be given tamper-evident ankle monitors so that it would be immediately evident to their supervisors if they were at the location of a crime.28 This technology might enable some prisoners to be more quickly released back into the community (or to avoid incarceration altogether) without risking public safety. The large number of crimes currently committed by those on probation or parole might also be reduced by this technology.29 Lastly, in addition to its potential to improve the quality of supervision, position-monitoring also opens up the possibility of graduated punishments, such as curfews, that are less severe and have fewer collateral consequences than incarceration but that might still deter or incapacitate many offenders.30 However, Mark Kleiman stated to us that GPS position monitoring has not yet been subject to much testing and has a very bad reputation among practitioners because of its use for actively monitoring sex offenders.31
  • Drug policy reforms with potential to reduce abuse and incarceration.
    • Regulating cannabis in Washington State and Colorado. Dr. Kleiman believes that the cannabis markets in Washington State and Colorado will end up promoting themselves to heavy users like the alcohol market does unless advocacy and technical assistance to state governments lead to responsible regulation.32 Dr. Kleiman was part of a group that worked with Washington State on its implementation of cannabis legalization and has suggested multiple ways to try to limit the costs of legalization and decrease marketing to abusers.33
    • Reducing the prevalence of binge drinking and alcohol use disorders. Dr. Kleiman told us that alcohol abuse is the most important public policy issue that [he] can think of that has no major advocate at the moment.34 According to Dr. Kleiman, reducing binge drinking by, for example, raising the alcohol tax or prohibiting drinking among past abusers would lower crime and have an immediate effect on the homicide rate.35 However, increasing regulation of alcohol could be politically difficult.36


Ideas promoted by the Pew Public Safety Performance Project

The Pew Public Safety Performance Project (PSPP) supports various evidence-based corrections and sentencing reforms intended to help states maximize the return on their public safety spending. These reforms include:

  • Risk and needs assessments of offenders to improve decisions about detention, incarceration, release, supervision, and treatment
  • Accountability measures to ensure the use of evidence based practices, and/or develop data reporting requirements
  • Good time and earned time credits that reduce the sentences or length of community supervision for inmates who behave well in prison or participate in programs designed to reduce recidivism
  • Intermediate and graduated sanctions, often based on HOPE, to deter bad behavior
  • Increased funding for community based treatment such as substance abuse programs and reentry plans
  • Sentencing changes
  • Mandatory supervision requirements to ensure that high risk offenders are supervised after being released from prison
  • Problem solving courts, which are often focused on offenders with substance abuse or mental health disorders
  • Streamlined and expanded parole to reduce incarceration while protecting public safety by expanding post-release supervision.37

While these are among the most common reforms, the specific reforms in each state are tailored to each state’s needs. PSPP’s population impact projections in the participating states estimate that these types of reforms can reduce state prison populations by 5% to 25%.38 We hope to discuss these reforms in more detail in an upcoming writeup.

Steve Teles is a political scientist at Johns Hopkins who has written about philanthropy’s role in political movements and in policy advocacy. Prof. Teles is the only person we’ve come across who has extensively studied the historical role of philanthropy in politics, and seems to have a broad view of the different ways in which philanthropy can influence policy. We have hired Dr. Teles part-time as a consultant and his work for us on criminal justice reform has informed many parts of our investigation.

Dr. Teles believes that with vastly intensified community corrections and alternatives to incarceration in place, incarceration rates could be safely reduced by up to 50%. To do this, we would need to substantially expand the advocacy infrastructure around criminal justice reform and might need to move beyond the specific interventions listed above.39

Various political and advocacy strategies, including policy research, legislative advocacy, technical assistance to policymakers or practitioners, litigation, communications and public education, funding direct services, and funding pilot projects could be used to pursue these policies. We are still learning about what might be the most fruitful strategies for achieving promising reforms. Two tactics that have struck us as particularly promising are providing technical assistance to state policymakers through the justice reinvestment process and engaging conservatives advocating reform. PSPP uses both these tactics, and we plan to elaborate in a future writeup.

We also believe that building an infrastructure to advocate for swift and certain responses to offenses and to provide technical assistance to policymakers and practitioners interested in those principles might be particularly effective. Our grants to Mark Kleiman (more) and Angela Hawken (more) are, in part, intended to provide tools to practitioners implementing or evaluating swift and certain sanctions.


Who else is working on it?

Several national foundations are involved in criminal justice reform.

Funder Budget Focus Areas
The Open Society Foundation (OSF) Budget of slightly under $15 million per year on criminal justice reform and an additional $7.8 million per year on their Campaign for a New Drug Policy.40 OSF appears (based on our scanning their list of grants) to focus on the death penalty and drug decriminalization.
The Pew Public Safety Performance Project (PSPP). PSPP does not make its annual budget publicly available. We hope to discuss PSPP more in a future writeup. PSPP is a program of the Pew Charitable Trusts a public charity. PSPP focuses on providing technical assistance to states seeking to improve their return on public safety spending, engaging with nontraditional allies of criminal justice reform (such as conservatives, law enforcement groups, and victims’ advocates), and research and public education.41
The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) LJAF made $5.5 million in criminal justice grants over three years from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2013.42 LJAF may also perform some criminal justice related work directly using its operating budget. LJAF focuses on “the front end of the system, which runs from arrest through sentencing, and forensic science.”43
The Ford Foundation Ford appears to have spent about $2.8 million on criminal justice grants in 2013.44 The Ford Foundation appears (based on scanning their list of grants) to be focused on supporting public defense, building a criminal justice reform advocacy infrastructure, and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion in Seattle.45
Atlantic Philanthropies Atlantic Philanthropies spent about $9.8 million on criminal justice related grants in 2012 (the most recent year for which we have data). We expect this number to go down over time because the foundation is winding down.46 Atlantic Philanthropies appears (based on scanning their list of grants) to focus heavily on capital punishment related work.47
Public Welfare Foundation Public Welfare’s Criminal Justice Program budget is about $6 million per year.48 The Public Welfare Foundation focuses on pretrial detention reform, sentencing reform, and racial disparities.49
The Smith Richardson Foundation (SRF) SRF spends about $1.5 million per year on criminal justice policy.50 SRF exclusively funds research.51

We believe that we have identified all of the large U.S. foundations with major criminal justice programs, but do not believe that this is an exhaustive list of all funding in the area. For example, many local foundations may work on criminal justice reform. We have identified somewhat less than $60 million per year in criminal justice reform funding by foundations (not including some spending that is strictly on drug policy). The federal government and state governments also promote criminal justice reform including through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a partnership with PSPP. We do not know how much the public sector spends on this cause. On the other hand, we used a very broad definition of criminal justice reform funding, so our estimate of total funding includes many projects that are not primarily intended to promote comprehensive reform. For example, the Ford Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies support some direct legal services, such as public defense and capital defense, and the Open Society Foundation focuses much of its resources on opposing capital punishment.

We have heard from various public policy and criminal justice reform experts that the field as a whole could use additional funding, but we don’t yet have very strong beliefs about the size of an adequately funded advocacy field, so we are relatively agnostic about this question.

We have, however, identified some areas where there appear to be gaps in existing funding. For example, there is no organization dedicated to promoting and providing technical assistance to jurisdictions interested in implementing swift and certain responses to offenses.52 More generally, we believe that there is room to fund certain evidence-based criminal justice reforms that focus prison beds on the highest risk offenders, try to build on support from moderates and conservatives, and prioritizing public safety while improving the efficiency of corrections spending.

While many of the above funders may fund some organizations that share this perspective, only three major foundations – Pew, LJAF, and SRF – seem very concentrated in this area of focus. In addition, we’ve spoken with two nonprofits whose approach seems, at least in part, aligned with ours. The Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections (CSC) provides technical assistance to governments seeking to improve their public safety spending and has worked with PSPP to provide assistance to states implementing data-driven reform through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.53 CSC’s staff includes about twenty employees.54 The Brennan Center for Justice is a “part think tank, part public interest law firm, part advocacy group, part communications hub,” whose Justice Program is focused on using “data-driven research” to reduce mass incarceration and reform the criminal justice system’s frontend.55 The Justice Program has about eight staff members.56 We do not know the budget of either of these organizations nor do we know the extent to which their funding comes from the foundations mentioned above.

Overall, we would guess that there is less than $20 million per year being spent by organizations (other than governments) on the types of reforms we are most interested in as detailed above.

We have also heard that there is a lack of funding for policy reforms, for reforms to the nexus between immigration and the criminal justice system, for front-end reforms, for national-level reform, for interdisciplinary research, and for efforts to improve prison conditions, but we have not investigated these claims in detail.57

How much of an impact could we have?

We are very uncertain about how much additional policy change various levels of funding might lead to in this space, the magnitude of prison population reduction that would be achieved by various policy changes, and the effects various policy changes might have on other variables such as the crime rate or the economy. We are also very uncertain about how much we should value reductions in prison time served relative to other potential outcomes (for example, additional income or years of life, or the ability to migrate from a developing country to a rich country).

We have, however, done back of the envelope calculations to get a sense of whether plausible near-term reforms would be important enough to justify our investment in this area. We do not yet know how ambitious our longer-term goals might be were we to invest in this area over multiple years.

  • Justice reinvestment. Justice reinvestment is a partnership through which PSPP and the federal government’s Bureau of Justice Assistance provide technical assistance to states so that they can improve the efficiency and reduce the costs of the criminal justice system and then use those cost savings to fund evidence based public safety practices, improving the overall state budget.58 Much of the criminal justice legislation passed since 2007 came out of the justice reinvestment process. Specifically, through 2013, twenty-nine legislative reform packages had been passed in twenty-seven states through justice reinvestment.59

    On average, PSPP forecasts that in the states in which it has worked, prison populations will fall about 11% in the five years after reform relative to what would have happened in reform’s absence. We hope to give our assessment of these forecasts in a future writeup focused on PSPP. Justice reinvestment’s track record suggests to us that a 10% further reduction in incarceration is ambitious but not infeasible.

    For an in depth overview of justice reinvestment, please see the Urban Institute’s assessment here. Our own full review of PSPP, including its justice reinvestment work, is near completion and should be published shortly.

  • Scaling swift and certain responses (exemplified by HOPE). As discussed above, HOPE is a program in which particularly high-risk probationers are transferred from normal probation into a swift-and-certain sanctions regime, in which they are subjected to randomly scheduled drug tests and immediately given brief jail stays for each probation violation60

    The randomized controlled trial of HOPE, which was restricted to drug-involved probationers who were not on supervision for domestic-violence or sex offenses, estimated that the average time spent in prison per probationer was reduced from about 134 days behind bars to about 69 days, an average difference of 65 days.61 In addition, no-shows for probation appointments, positive urine tests, new arrest rates, and probation revocation rates all decreased by half or more, suggesting that HOPE may also have positive effects on public safety.62

    About two million persons entered probation in the United States in 2012.63 It is difficult to guess at the coverage that could be reached through an ambitious but pragmatic expansion of swift and certain responses, especially because we do not know whether the intervention would have strong effects on probationers other than the specific population covered by the HOPE RCT (high risk, drug-involved probationers neither under supervision for sex crimes nor for domestic violence). However, we’d guess that a successful campaign for the adoption of swift-and-certain might scale to one fourth of probationers.64

    If HOPE achieved the same results after being scaled to one fourth of the people entering probation in a given year, it would reduce the number of people incarcerated at a point in time by about 90 thousand people.65

    There were about 2.2 million incarcerated people in 2012, so this would be a decrease of about 4%.66 It strikes us as possible that a major advocacy push combined with major investments in criminal justice infrastructure and administration might lead to a more extensive roll out of swift-and-certain or to an expansion of HOPE’s principles to contexts beyond probation.67 It’s also possible that additional research on HOPE would lead to improvements and better-calibrated responses to offenses. However, this possibility is quite speculative and it’s quite possible that the results of HOPE would not be replicated at scale.68

  • Effects of a 10% reduction in incarceration rates. Based on the above points, we would guess that a 10% reduction in incarceration rates, with a neutral or positive effect on public safety, is a reasonable back of the envelope baseline for a very successful criminal justice reform campaign. Below, we discuss our very rough sense of the social impact of such a win.
    • Years of incarceration averted. In 2012, there were about 2.2 million people incarcerated.69 Reducing the incarcerated population by 10% for 10 years would therefore avert 2.2 million person years of incarceration.70
    • Fiscal savings Total state corrections expenditures were about $48.5 billion in 2010.71 We’d guess that a 10% reduction in incarceration would lead to somewhat less than a 10% reduction in corrections spending because some of the reduction in incarceration will be achieved by strengthening community corrections and because the marginal cost of incarceration may be less than the average cost. We’d therefore very roughly guess that a 10% reduction in incarceration would lead to a 5% reduction in corrections spending and savings of $2.4 billion per year.72 Thus, over the course of ten years, we’d guess that successful, ambitious reform would save states about $24 billion on the costs of incarceration. However, the total impact on state budgets would probably be somewhat smaller because investments in improving community corrections would be required to facilitate these reductions in incarceration. It is possible that further reductions in incarceration could be safely achieved if large portions of these savings were spent on programs attempting to lower recidivism or alternatives to incarceration, but we have not carefully investigated the effectiveness of such programs.
  • Diffuse effects and effects on other outcomes. We’d hope that funding groups that study and spread data-based criminal justice policies designed around effectiveness instead of designed to make politicians appear “tough on crime” would have additional diffuse effects on improving the U.S. criminal justice debate. However, we find it difficult to estimate the magnitude of these effects and do not factor them into this discussion. This analysis also does not focus on possible reductions in crime. We’ve seen some evidence that these effects might be substantial, but we have not tried to quantify these effects.
  • The potential for much larger reductions. Prof. Steve Teles believes that for a sufficiently ambitious effort, including substantial expansion of advocacy infrastructure on many dimensions, impacts in the range of a 50% reduction in incarceration could be achievable.73

What have we done so far?

Criminal justice reform stands out to us in part because we found impressive people and organizations with innovative ideas who were struggling to get adequate funding. These opportunities suggested to us both the possibility of making an impact and also the possibility of learning quickly from our grantees.

We discuss below the grants that we have made so far.


Grant to support Mark A.R. Kleiman, Professor of Public Policy at UCLA

We first decided to speak to Dr. Kleiman because of his work researching and promoting the concept of swift and certain sanctions, which Matt Stoller and Aaron Swartz found to be a potentially promising policy and because his work was recommended to us by Steven Teles.74

During our conversations with him, Dr. Kleiman presented us with policy ideas aimed at reducing crime and incarceration that struck us as innovative, potentially high-impact, and neglected. These ideas included:

  • Swift and certain sanctions (more above)
  • Position-monitoring (more above)
  • Reducing alcohol abuse by, for example, increasing alcohol taxes (more above)
  • Regulating cannabis in Washington State and Colorado. Some ideas Dr. Kleiman thought would be worth trying out or studying to prevent recreational cannabis legalization from harming heavy users included:
    • Allowing home delivery of cannabis.
    • Allowing individuals to set their own quotas (alterable only with thirty days notice) as a commitment mechanism to avoid using more than they intend.
    • Setting limits on the amount of THC that could be produced.
    • Studying the retail process and ways for the state to dissuade abuse such as labels or other forms of communication.
    • Setting levels of cannabis taxation such that the price of legal cannabis will neither be much higher than its current, illicit price (which would incentivize a continued illicit market) nor much lower (which would increase abuse)75
  • Refocusing international narcotics enforcement on violence prevention76
  • Researching the possible beneficial effects of some illicit drugs77

These ideas struck us as potentially innovative, insightful, and pragmatic. Dr. Kleiman believes that, without regulation, legalized cannabis markets may be dangerous to heavy users (see above) or lead to a backlash.78

As our investigation of criminal justice reform moved forward, we heard that Dr. Kleiman is excellent at navigating the intersection of research and policy and we learned that there does indeed seem to be a lack of research funding and attention toward his ideas relative to our impression of their promise (see above for a discussion of existing funding for criminal justice reform).79

We asked Dr. Kleiman about his need for more funding and his team’s priorities. Dr. Kleiman told us that he could use $250,000 to $300,000 on immediate, time-sensitive research and technical assistance and could usefully spend up to $1 million per year if additional funding priorities were included.80 He also told us that his application to a foundation for $175,000 to work on these issues had recently been rejected.81

Dr. Kleiman also sent us a prioritized list of fifteen specific projects and their budget estimates. The top six projects, totaling $245,000, were:

  • Alcohol cross-elasticity Dr. Kleiman believes alcohol abuse is a serious threat to public safety and cannabis use could be a complement or substitute for alcohol use, so cannabis policy’s effects on alcohol use could be an important component of its costs or benefits. He proposed to “use the natural experiment created by difference in cannabis policy between Western and Eastern Washington to measure the impacts of cannabis availability on alcohol sales and on health and public-safety outcomes.”82
  • Outcome list and data-gathering plan. In order to learn from the experiments with legalization in Washington and Colorado, it could be important to have baseline data from before legalization has had its effect. Dr. Kleiman proposed to identify the most relevant outcomes for evaluating legalization, determine how to measure those that are measureable, determine which must be measured before legalization is implemented, and then estimate the cost of carrying out time-sensitive data-gathering.83
  • Online implementation tool for swift-and-certain sanctions programs. Dr. Kleiman proposed to create a website to provide information to jurisdictions interested in implementing swift and certain sanctions for probation and parole violations.84
  • Swift-and-certain mechanism study: self-command and procedural justice. In order to learn more about the mechanisms behind the success of swift and certain sanctions and to improve program design, Dr. Kleiman proposed to “develop and field-test instruments to measure self-command, delayed gratification, and perceptions of fairness among offenders subject to swift-and-certain sanctions programs to determine which, if any, predict outcomes.”85
  • Optimal cannabis taxation. Dr. Kleiman proposed to “[d]etermine the optimal level and basis of cannabis taxation for states now legalizing, balancing considerations of health, public safety, revenue, and administrative feasibility.”86
  • User-determined quotas. Dr. Kleiman proposed to study the possibility of implementing user-determined quotas to help cannabis users avoid problem use.87

We were surprised to learn that, in a field with so much attention, Dr. Kleiman had not already found funding for his agenda, and was planning to allocate the same staff time to for-profit consulting if he could not find funding for this work. Good Ventures made a $245,000 grant to the Washington Office on Latin America, which will be used to support Dr. Kleiman’s research. While the grant amount was designed to be enough to fund the above six projects, it is unrestricted and Dr. Kleiman is free to use the funding for other research opportunities if they arise.

Dr. Kleiman’s descriptions of his proposed projects are available here.

Another donor has since donated an additional $70,000 to support the projects on Dr. Kleiman’s list, also unrestricted and also at our recommendation.

We published an update on this grant in May, 2015.

Grant to support Angela Hawken, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Pepperdine University

Dr. Angela Hawken is an associate professor of public policy at Pepperdine University, where her research focuses on “drugs, crimes and corruption.”88 We were referred to Dr. Hawken by Steven Teles, who knew about her work leading the randomized controlled trial of HOPE, and by Dr. Kleiman, who has frequently collaborated with her.89

Dr. Hawken’s current project, BetaGov, aims to generate knowledge about what works in the public sector (in areas including but not limited to criminal justice) by serving as a repository for practitioners’ ideas to be tested, serving as a database of results to facilitate learning across studies, and providing a toolkit (including web-based training, webinars, assessment tools, and an RCT call-in hotline) so that practitioners can conduct their own RCTs.90 Dr. Hawken believes that Ph.D.’s are not necessarily needed to implement randomized controlled trials in all cases, and that by collecting ideas, enabling and encouraging practitioners to conduct RCTs, and sharing the results, BetaGov will dramatically increase the evidence available for public sector programs 91

At the time we began funding BetaGov, Dr. Hawken was already working with two jurisdictions seeking to test out variations on swift-and certain sanctions (Washington State and a jurisdiction in a western state), suggesting that there is demand for BetaGov’s service.92

Dr. Hawken’s rough estimate is that BetaGov’s full budget would be “on the order of $2 million for a five-year period.”93 We hope to make BetaGov’s budget and proposal public shortly.

We are interested in promoting an attitude toward the criminal justice system (and public policy in general) that values evidence and outcomes. Facilitating randomized controlled trials by practitioners seems like a good way to encourage this approach among policymakers and implementers on the ground. We believe that BetaGov’s efforts to increase the evidence base in the field of criminal justice may be an important complement to our other efforts to take advantage of the bipartisan interest in policy change in this field.94 We have therefore made a $200,000 grant to Pepperdine University to provide BetaGov with seed funding. We plan to follow up with BetaGov and would consider providing additional funding if the project is successful.

Pew Public Safety Performance Project (PSPP)

PSPP provides technical assistance to states seeking to reform their criminal justice laws through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a partnership between PSPP and the federal government’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. Over two dozen states have passed legislative packages with PSPP’s assistance, a track record that we believe stands out in the field of politics and reveals an impressive ability to work with policymakers. These packages typically included reforms aimed at improving states’ returns on their public safety spending and focusing prison beds on the highest risk such as improving sentencing, improving pretrial systems, streamlining and expanding parole, implementing swift and certain responses to violations by probationers and parolees, increasing and improving community corrections, and establishing oversight and performance packages (see above for more discussion of reforms promoted by PSPP).

PSPP also engages in broader efforts to change the tenor of the debate on criminal justice reform from one that focuses on the divide between “tough” v. “weak” on crime to one that focuses on being “smart on crime” and implementing evidence-based policies. To do so, PSPP has engaged with and supported nontraditional allies of criminal justice reform such as conservatives (including Right on Crime and the Justice Fellowship), victims’ advocates, and law enforcement.

PSPP’s focus on incarceration’s fiscal costs and on improving the return states get on their public safety spending seems to have successfully engaged policymakers and stakeholders across ideologies and is consistent with our belief that the potential for bipartisan collaboration makes criminal justice reform a particularly tractable cause. While we find it difficult to rigorously evaluate policy advocacy and technical assistance, we are impressed with PSPP’s track record and believe that they played a major role in achieving or improving the quality of a substantial number of beneficial reforms.

We are considering a $3 million grant to PSPP over a two-year period. A full review of PSPP is near completion.

Open questions

  • What is the relationship between incarceration and public safety? How does this differ among various reforms? What incarceration rate and crime rate should we expect if the criminal justice system is functioning well?
  • What are the expected impacts on crime and incarceration of the most plausible reforms that are currently on the table? What effect should we expect from broader advocacy strategies?
  • What is the appropriate level of funding for different criminal justice reform strategies? How much of an effect on policy should we expect from differing levels of funding? How does this differ by the type of strategy? Is it possible that the field has developed far enough that reform will happen even without additional funding?
  • How do moderate reforms affect the possibility of achieving large-scale reforms? Do moderate reforms make larger-scale reforms more likely by moving policy and dialogue in the right direction or do they subvert large-scale reforms by drawing away attention and resources?
  • What could be accomplished by developing a strategy that attempted to more aggressively increase the attention paid to criminal justice issues, expand political possibilities, and design additional interventions?

Our process

Good Ventures began exploring drug policy reform, a field closely connected to criminal justice reform, in 2012 with a grant to the Drug Policy Alliance followed by a report on the topic researched and written by Matt Stoller and Aaron Swartz. We initially learned about Mark Kleiman through this report.

In the spring of 2013, we began to investigate the broad cause of policy-oriented philanthropy and spoke to U.S. public policy generalists including Steven Teles, Gara LaMarche, and Mark Schmitt, and gained the impression that criminal justice reform is a promising cause with a “window of opportunity” for policy change.95 Dr. Teles, in particular, argued that this cause represented the best available opportunity to find good U.S. giving opportunities quickly and make relatively short-term progress.96

Over the summer and fall of 2013, we had broad conversations about criminal justice reform with experts in the field and with criminal justice reform specialists and many of the field’s biggest funders. Public notes are available from our conversations with:

More recently, our conversations have focused on evaluating specific funding opportunities. Public notes are available from such a conversation with Mark Kleiman and Angela Hawken. We expect additional public notes to be forthcoming.

Our research has particularly but not exclusively investigated approaches to criminal justice reform focused on improving public safety and reducing state spending on incarceration by saving prison beds for high-risk offenders because we learned early on that this approach seems underfunded relative to its promise. Dr. Teles, whom we have hired as a part-time consultant, has also played a major role in helping us to design our criminal justice reform strategy and in sourcing opportunities. We continue to be open to learning about more opportunities in this space and may make additional grants in the future.

Sources

Document Source
Angela Hawken email to GiveWell on September 17, 2013 Unpublished
Angela Hawken homepage Source (archive)
BetaGov proposal Unpublished
Brennan Center website Source (archive)
Bureau of Justice Statistics. Correctional Populations in the United States, 2012 Source (archive)
Bureau of Justice Statistics. Criminal Victimization, 2012 Source (archive)
Bureau of Justice Statistics. Probation and parole in the United States, 2012 Source (archive)
Bureau of Justice Statistics. State Corrections Expenditures, FY 1982-2010 Source (archive)
GiveWell spreadsheet compiling criminal justice grants Unpublished
GiveWell’s notes from a July 26, 2013 conversation with the Open Society Foundation Source
GiveWell’s notes from a September 10, 2013 conversation with Mark Steinmeyer Source
GiveWell’s notes from an August 27, 2013 converstion with Matt Stoller Source
GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman Source
GiveWell’s notes on a June 12, 2013 conversation with Steve Teles Source
GiveWell’s notes on a November 12, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman Source
GiveWell’s notes on a September 16, 2013 with Angela Hawken Source
GiveWell’s notes on an August 22, 2013 conversation with Inimai M. Chettiar Source
GiveWell’s notes on an August 23, 2013 conversation with Adam Gelb Source
GiveWell’s notes on an August 28, 2013 conversation with Seema Gajwani Source
GiveWell’s notes on an October 31, 2013 conversation with Gara LaMarche Source
GiveWell’s notes on May 22 and June 14, 2013 conversations with Mark Schmitt Source
Hawken and Kleiman 2009 Source (archive)
LaVigne et al 2014 Source (archive)
LJAF website. Areas of Focus Source (archive)
LJAF website. Grants Source (archive)
Mark Kleiman email to GiveWell on April 28, 2014 Unpublished
Mark Kleiman homepage Source (archive)
Mark Kleiman. Proposed project list. Source (archive)
Mark Kleiman. Smart on Crime Source (archive)
Mark Kleiman. The Outpatient Prison Source (archive)
National Institute of Justice. Swift and Certain Sanctions Source (archive)
OECD. How’s Life? 2013: Measuring Well-Being Source (archive)
Pew Presentation to Good Ventures and GiveWell Unpublished
Pew Public Safety Performance Project. Sentencing and Corrections Reforms in Justice Reinvestment States Source (archive)
Pew. Collateral costs: incarceration’s effects on economic mobility Source (archive)
Pew. One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008 Source (archive)
Schmitt, Warner, and Gupta 2010 Source (archive)
Steve Teles conversation with GiveWell on May 9, 2013 Unpublished
Steve Teles email to GiveWell on April 24, 2014 Unpublished
Steve Teles email to GiveWell on March 1, 2014 Unpublished
Vera Center on Sentencing and Corrections Website Source (archive)
  • 1.

    Throughout the rest of this page, “we” refers to both Good Ventures and GiveWell, as the two organizations are closely collaborating on this work.

  • 2.
    • According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the United States incarcerated 707 persons per 100,000 residents as of December 2012, second only to Seychelles, which incarcerated 709 persons per 100,000 residents as of October, 2012. The third highest rate was St. Kitts and Nevis at 611 per 100,000 residents. See the Centre’s ranking here . These numbers do not include North Korea. We have not carefully vetted this data but would guess it is reasonably accurate because it was cited by the Pew Public Safety Performance Project, whose knowledge of criminal justice issues we respect.
    • “In most OECD countries, homicide rates are low, and well below the OECD average of 2.23 homicides per 100,000 people. They are, however, more than twice as high in the United States and even higher in Mexico, Brazil and in the Russian Federation.” OECD. How’s Life? 2013: Measuring Well-Being, pg. 64.
    • On the other hand, self-reported assault victimization in the United States is much lower than the OECD average. OECD. How’s Life? 2013: Measuring Well-Being, pg. 66, Figure 2.30. We focus on the homicide rate because self-reported victimization is often inaccurate and homicide data is much more comparable across countries and much more reliable than other data on crime rates. “However, homicide is the type of crime that is the least affected by the above-mentioned problems of cross-country comparability, under-reporting, and idiosyncratic classification.” OECD. How’s Life? 2013: Measuring Well-Being, pg. 65. It is possible, however, that focusing on the homicide rate overestimates violent crime in the United States relative to other developed countries.
    • Crime rates are an incomplete indicator of the costs of crime. A more comprehensive estimate would include the costs borne by potential victims who have taken precautionary measures to avoid crime (such as moving to safer neighborhoods). These costs are discussed in more detail in Mark Kleiman’s book When Brute Force Fails.
    • We have not carefully vetted this crime data.
  • 3.

    “Failure rates on probation are high and have remained relatively stable (at around 40 percent) (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006).” Hawken and Kleiman 2009, pg. 7.

  • 4.
    • It might be possible to make a difference in the shorter term on criminal justice, especially at the state and local level. There are definitely bipartisan opportunities to make progress. Even ten years ago, a lot of people interested in criminal justice reform were exploring a lot of conservative connections. Criminal justice issues that currently have traction include working against mandatory minimums, working toward legalization of marijuana, and others. GiveWell’s notes on May 22 and June 14, 2013 conversations with Mark Schmitt
    • Mr. LaMarche agrees with GiveWell’s view that criminal justice reform is a promising area with unusual potential for bipartisan coalitions. GiveWell’s notes on an October 31, 2013 conversation with Gara LaMarche .
    • Conservatives are becoming more for prison reform – as the party as shifted to the right, they start to see prison as another form of government they want to get rid of. This is happening with military spending as well. So this creates opportunities for liberals to cut spending on things like military and incarceration. GiveWell’s notes on a June 12, 2013 conversation with Steve Teles.
  • 5.
    • There is currently a unique window of opportunity for criminal justice reform that may close at some point in the future, for two reasons. First, the fiscal crisis has put a focus on budgets, and brought Republican political support to the idea of reducing prison populations. When the economy recovers and budgets are not as tight, progress on criminal justice reform may be more difficult. Second, the United States is currently experiencing historically low crime rates. An uptick in crime could eliminate the opportunity for reform. GiveWell’s notes on an August 28, 2013 conversation with Seema Gajwani
    • Criminal justice reform is one of the few areas right now where there is potential for bipartisan collaboration… . At the same time, crime rates across the US are the lowest they’ve been in 50 years, so there is not as much fear about public safety… . Historically, conservatives have been less supportive of reform, but today this is not uniformly the case. Some conservatives support reform because of fiscal considerations: keeping people incarcerated is very expensive, and it removes potential taxpayers from society. Other conservatives see criminal justice reform as aligned with their values and interests. GiveWell’s notes from a July 26, 2013 conversation with the Open Society Foundation
    • It might be possible to make a difference in the shorter term on criminal justice, especially at the state and local level. There are definitely bipartisan opportunities to make progress. Even ten years ago, a lot of people interested in criminal justice reform were exploring a lot of conservative connections. Criminal justice issues that currently have traction include working against mandatory minimums, working toward legalization of marijuana, and others. GiveWell’s notes on May 22 and June 14, 2013 conversations with Mark Schmitt
    • Mr. LaMarche agrees with GiveWell’s view that criminal justice reform is a promising area with unusual potential for bipartisan coalitions.” GiveWell’s notes on an October 31, 2013 conversation with Gara LaMarche .
    • Conservatives are becoming more for prison reform – as the party as shifted to the right, they start to see prison as another form of government they want to get rid of. This is happening with military spending as well. So this creates opportunities for liberals to cut spending on things like military and incarceration. GiveWell’s notes on a June 12, 2013 conversation with Steve Teles.
    • ‘Downhill’ policy areas are areas where some progress is already being made or seems likely to come soon. Examples include criminal justice reform, drug policy reform, gay rights, and surveillance. GiveWell’s notes from an August 27, 2013 converstion with Matt Stoller
  • 6.

    Please see Pew Public Safety Performance Project. Sentencing and Corrections Reforms in Justice Reinvestment States for a summary of these reforms.

  • 7.

    “In comparison, about 3 in 10 offenders (or 2,228,400) under correctional
    supervision were in the custody of state or federal prisons (1,483,900) or local jails (744,500)” Bureau of Justice Statistics. Correctional Populations in the United States, 2012, pg. 3.

  • 8.

    According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the United States incarcerated 707 persons per 100,000 residents as of December 2012, second only to Seychelles, which incarcerated 709 persons per 100,000 residents as of October, 2012. The third highest rate was St. Kitts and Nevis at 611 per 100,000 residents. See the Centre’s ranking here . These numbers do not include North Korea. We have not carefully vetted this data but would guess it is reasonably accurate because it was cited by the Pew Public Safety Performance Project, whose knowledge of criminal justice issues we respect.

  • 9.
    • “In most OECD countries, homicide rates are low, and well below the OECD average of 2.23 homicides per 100,000 people. They are, however, more than twice as high in the United States and even higher in Mexico, Brazil and in the Russian Federation.” OECD. How’s Life? 2013: Measuring Well-Being, pg. 64.
    • On the other hand, self-reported assault victimization in the United States is much lower than the OECD average. OECD. How’s Life? 2013: Measuring Well-Being, pg. 66, Figure 2.30. We focus on the homicide rate because self-reported victimization is often inaccurate and homicide data is much more comparable across countries and much more reliable than other data on crime rates. “However, homicide is the type of crime that is the least affected by the above-mentioned problems of cross-country comparability, under-reporting, and idiosyncratic classification.” OECD. How’s Life? 2013: Measuring Well-Being, pg. 65. It is possible, however, that focusing on the homicide rate overestimates violent crime in the United States relative to other developed countries.
    • Crime rates are an incomplete indicator of the costs of crime. A more comprehensive estimate would include the costs born by potential victims who have taken precautionary measures to avoid crime (such as moving to safer neighborhoods). These costs are discussed in more detail in Mark Kleiman’s book When Brute Force Fails, though we have not examined or vetted the discussion of them.
    • We have not carefully vetted this crime data.
  • 10.

    We have not carefully vetted the quality of the data behind this graph.

  • 11.

    Existing studies of the effect of mass incarceration on public safety conflate correlation with causation. GiveWell’s notes on an August 22, 2013 conversation with Inimai M. Chettiar.

  • 12.

    ” Viewed from the perspective of deterrence, long prison terms are a bad bargain: The last 15 years of a 20-year prison sentence start five years from its beginning, a period distant enough to be beyond the planning horizon of the typical armed robber. And those long prison terms are no better viewed from the perspective of incapacitation—the purely mechanical effect of preventing crime by keeping the criminals locked up. Because crime is mostly a young man’s game, the amount of crime prevented per year incarcerated falls with the age of the prisoner; by the end of a long sentence even a prisoner who starts out young has grown old, as age is measured in the world of offending. Thanks to “three strikes” laws and absurdly long terms for drug dealing, the average prisoner is now in his (or, much more rarely, her) mid-30s while the average new crime is committed by someone in his early 20s. That’s a very costly mismatch.” Mark Kleiman. Smart on Crime.

  • 13.

    According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, which we have not vetted, “between 2002 and 2010, [total state corrections] expenditures fluctuated between $53.4 billion and $48.4 billion.” Bureau of Justice Statistics. State Corrections Expenditures, FY 1982-2010, pg. 1. We would guess that including federal expenditures would add significantly to this amount. One report found that “In 2008, federal, state, and local governments spent about $75 billion on corrections, the large majority of which was spent on incarceration.” Schmitt, Warner, and Gupta 2010, pg. 2.

  • 14.

    Note, though, that we’d guess that pre-incarceration employment rates are relatively low among those who are eventually incarcerated.

  • 15.

    A study by Pew found that “[o]n average, incarceration eliminates more than half the earnings a white man would otherwise have made through age 48, and 41 and 44 percent of the earnings for Hispanic and black men, respectively. (See Table 1.) That amounts to an expected earnings loss of nearly $179,000 just through age 48 for people who have been incarcerated.” Pew. Collateral costs: incarceration’s effects on economic mobility, Pg 11, Figure 4. However, we are skeptical of attempts to econometrically determine incarceration’s effects on future earnings.

  • 16.

    “Hidden behind the growing crowd of men and women behind bars in America is another, often overlooked population—their children. Inadvertent victims of their parents’ crimes, children of inmates weather a host of repercussions, from the emotional and psychological trauma of separation to an increased risk of juvenile delinquency. Incarceration also creates economic aftershocks for these children and their families. Disrupted, destabilized and deprived of a wage-earner, families with an incarcerated parent are likely to experience a decline in household income as well as an increased likelihood of poverty. The struggle to maintain ties with a family member confined in an often-distant prison creates additional financial hardship for already fragile families left behind… . The most alarming news lurking within these figures is that there are now 2.7 million minor children (under age 18) with a parent behind bars.” Pew. Collateral costs: incarceration’s effects on economic mobility.

  • 17.

    “While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, for black males in that age group the figure is one in nine.” Pew. One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008, pg. 3.

  • 18.

    “The rate of violent victimization for non-Hispanic blacks increased from 26.4 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 2011 to 34.2 per 1,000 in 2012. Both the rates for non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics remained flat from 2011 to 2012. In 2011, there were no measurable differences in the violent crime rates for blacks, whites, or Hispanics, while in 2012, the rate for blacks (34.2 per 1,000) was higher than the rates for whites (25.2 per 1,000) and Hispanics (24.5 per 1,000). Rates of serious violent victimization for whites, blacks, and Hispanics remained stable from 2011 to 2012. Similar to 2011, the rate of serious violence in 2012 for blacks (11.3 per 1,000) was higher than the rate for whites (6.8 per 1,000).” Bureau of Justice Statistics. Criminal Victimization, 2012, pg. 7.

  • 19.

    “Mark Kleiman is Professor of Public Policy in the UCLA School of Public Affairs. He teaches courses on methods of policy analysis, on imperfectly rational decision-making at the individual and social level, and on drug abuse and crime control policy. His current focus is on reducing crime and incarceration by substituting swiftness and predictability for severity in the criminal justice system generally and in community-corrections institutions specifically. ” Mark Kleiman homepage

  • 20.

    Washington hired a group of external consultants, including Dr. Kleiman, to advise it on how to implement its program, but the funding for that has run out. GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman

  • 21.

    A particularly effective way to prevent alcohol and drug use among abusers is “swift and certain” sanctions: frequently testing probationers for drugs or alcohol and implementing very short jail sentences or other punishments for failing on any occasion. People who get in trouble with drugs and crime tend to have trouble adjusting their current behavior to their long-term interests, so low-probability, high-severity punishments are not optimal. Swift and certain sanctions—mild but almost immediate—are therefore effective deterrents. The swift-and- certain model is relatively low cost and could be implemented on a national scale, unlike some other drug and alcohol treatment programs that are more expensive. Drug courts, for example, are unlikely to be implemented nationally because doing so would require too many judges and more treatment capacity than actually exists.

    There have been 4 studies demonstrating the effectiveness of swift and certain sanctions programs. Swift and certain sanctions strongly outperformed mandated treatment in the DC Drug Court experiment. The HOPE program in Hawaii used swift and certain punishment to curtail illicit drug (mainly methamphetamine) use. The 90-day 24/7 Sobriety program in South Dakota used a similar system for alcohol and also had promising results, reducing DUI recidivism by 50% over two years among participants and reducing domestic violence countywide where it was implemented. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is currently funding replications of the HOPE program, and results should be available in roughly 2 years.

    Despite the success of swift-and-certain-sanctions programs, there is limited funding for research or implementation of this model. For example, more research is needed to determine what the smallest effective punishment is. Swift and certain sanctions are a genuine alternative to incarceration and could encourage judges and legislators to grant shorter sentences. An alternative but related approach would be to release convicts from jail early, under close monitoring and swift and certain sanctions. GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.

  • 22.

    “Viewed from the perspective of deterrence, long prison terms are a bad bargain: The last 15 years of a 20-year prison sentence start five years from its beginning, a period distant enough to be beyond the planning horizon of the typical armed robber. And those long prison terms are no better viewed from the perspective of incapacitation—the purely mechanical effect of preventing crime by keeping the criminals locked up. Because crime is mostly a young man’s game, the amount of crime prevented per year incarcerated falls with the age of the prisoner; by the end of a long sentence even a prisoner who starts out young has grown old, as age is measured in the world of offending. Thanks to “three strikes” laws and absurdly long terms for drug dealing, the average prisoner is now in his (or, much more rarely, her) mid-30s while the average new crime is committed by someone in his early 20s. That’s a very costly mismatch.” Mark Kleiman. Smart on Crime

  • 23.

    ” Before HOPE, probationers in Hawaii typically received notice of drug tests as much as a month ahead of time. Under HOPE, probationers are given a color code at the warning hearing. Every morning, they must call a hot line to hear which color has been selected for that day. If it is their color, they must appear at the probation office before 2 p.m. for a drug test. [1]

    If a HOPE probationer fails to appear for the drug test, a bench warrant is issued and served immediately. A probationer who fails the random drug test is immediately arrested and within 72 hours is brought before a judge. If the probationer is found to have violated the terms of probation, he or she is immediately sentenced to a short jail stay. Typically, the term is several days, servable on the weekend if the probationer is employed; sentences increase for successive violations.” National Institute of Justice. Swift and Certain Sanctions.

  • 24.
    • “NIJ-funded researchers evaluated HOPE to determine if it worked and results were positive. Compared to probationers in a control group, after one year the HOPE probationers were:
      • Fifty-five percent less likely to be arrested for a new crime.
      • Seventy-two percent less likely to use drugs.
      • Sixty-one percent less likely to skip appointments with their supervisory officer.
      • Fifty-three percent less likely to have their probation revoked.

      As a result, HOPE probationers served or were sentenced to 48 percent fewer days, on average, than the control group.” National Institute of Justice. Swift and Certain Sanctions.

    • There is a concern that the results of HOPE won’t replicate because not all jurisdictions have similar leadership. GiveWell’s notes from a September 10, 2013 conversation with Mark Steinmeyer
    • There is little evidence on the long-term impact of the program. While it seems plausible that short-term sobriety is a necessary condition of long-term sobriety, the evidence for HOPE is currently limited to the short-term, when people are under supervision. GiveWell’s notes on an August 23, 2013 conversation with Adam Gelb.
    • The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is currently funding replications of the HOPE program, and results should be available in roughly 2 years. GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.
  • 25.

    Swift and certain sanctions strongly outperformed mandated treatment in the DC Drug Court experiment. The HOPE program in Hawaii used swift and certain punishment to curtail illicit drug (mainly methamphetamine) use. The 90-day 24/7 Sobriety program in South Dakota used a similar system for alcohol and also had promising results, reducing DUI recidivism by 50% over two years among participants and reducing domestic violence countywide where it was implemented. GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman. We have not vetted these claims.

  • 26.

    Despite the success of swift-and-certain-sanctions programs, there is limited funding for research or implementation of this model. For example, more research is needed to determine what the smallest effective punishment is.
    Swift and certain sanctions are a genuine alternative to incarceration and could encourage judges and legislators to grant shorter sentences. An alternative but related approach would be to release convicts from jail early, under close monitoring and swift and certain sanctions.
    GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.

  • 27.

    “And, having demonstrated that it’s possible to manage as difficult a behavior change as desistance from methamphetamine as long as you can monitor the behavior and sanction non-compliance, we need to consider what other aspects of offenders’ behavior are both easy to monitor and closely linked to recidivism. Then that same system needs to be extended to the juvenile offenders who account for a big slice of current crime and an even bigger slice of future crime.

    The obvious candidate to help make all this happen is position-monitoring. Monitoring aided by global positioning systems (GPS) is already in use within the criminal justice system, mostly for enforcing home confinement on sex offenders.” Mark Kleiman. The Outpatient Prison.

  • 28.

    “For less than five dollars per day, we could equip an offender with a GPS monitor on a tamper-evident anklet. So equipped, the offender would find it very hard to commit new crimes without getting caught, since his location could be compared automatically with the times and places of crimes reported to the 911 system.” Mark Kleiman. The Outpatient Prison.

  • 29.
    • “This is not a small matter. There are more than twice as many offenders under community supervision (4.3 million on probation, 700,000 on parole) as in prison (1.7 million) and jail (700,000) combined. No one seems to have even estimated the number on pretrial release; the population isn’t tracked because pretrial releasees are almost entirely unsupervised, but they must number in the hundreds of thousands at any one time. Offenders under some form of criminal justice jurisdiction account for about 40 percent of new felony arrests. More people are sent to prison each year for violating probation or parole conditions than as a result of conviction for new crimes. Of those released from prison, about two-thirds cycle back within three years; the failure rate for felony probation is lower, but still very bad: about 40 percent.” Mark Kleiman. The Outpatient Prison.
    • “But that’s just a start. If a probationer or parolee is wearing an anklet, the probation officer or parole agent can know not just whether he was at a crime scene, but whether he was where he was supposed to be at any time during the day. Is he at work during working hours? At his drug treatment or anger-management class when scheduled? Out of the jurisdiction without permission? Near the street drug market, gang hangout or victim’s address?” Mark Kleiman. The Outpatient Prison.
  • 30.

    “Once position monitoring is established, then position restriction can be used as a control, or as a sanction. Why shouldn’t a felony probation sentence start out with three months of a nine p.m. curfew? Or how about a parole term? We know that the first few days and weeks are the most dangerous in terms of going back to prison. Could we cut down on that risk by keeping parolees off the streets late at night?” Mark Kleiman. The Outpatient Prison.

  • 31.

    “GPS, because of the use of ‘active monitoring’ with sex offenders, has a very bad reputation in the field… . I’m convinced that the less expensive and intrusive “passive monitoring” can work, but other than Massachusetts I can’t point to examples in the field. This area is badly under-evaluated.” Mark Kleiman email to GiveWell on April 28, 2014.

  • 32.

    Without technical assistance or relevant advocacy, the cannabis market in Washington and Colorado is likely to end up looking like the alcohol market, where the industry is allowed to promote itself to heavy users with few policy constraints. Historically, alcohol went from being illegal to manufacture or sell to being an ordinary good that is entirely marketable (except to children). Ideally a middle ground could be found for cannabis. If not, there could be a backlash against cannabis legalization. GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.

  • 33.

    Dr. Kleiman’s recommendations for Washington Dr. Kleiman has been part of a group working with the state of Washington on their implementation of a market for cannabis. The work involved estimating the size of the market and making policy recommendations. Their recommendations included allowing home delivery and allowing individuals to set their own cannabis quota that can only be changed with 30 days’ notice. A proposal that wasn’t accepted but might be in the future was to limit cannabis production, and specifically to use THC as the basis for limiting it. An important aim was to get the state policy makers to focus on the outcomes of drug policy and not just the purchase process. With alcohol, regulators tend to focus on who can buy and sell alcohol, but with drugs and alcohol it is important to also consider the potential outcomes of any policy in terms of the costs and benefits to individuals and society.

    The group proposed a number of potential projects that would require additional funding. One project would be to understand the process by which the cannabis market will bring in consumers: what they know about cannabis, how they acquire information, and what the state can do to communicate to users and dissuade abuse – including how to design labels and what to include on them, and what information should be distributed by the vendor, on a state website, or via other forms of communication. Cannabis is a complicated drug, so vendors need to be knowledgeable, and the state needs to figure out how to incentivize vendors not to market to drug abusers. The 20% heaviest users account for 80% or more of the volume of drugs consumed, so vendors have a strong incentive to market to abusers.

    Colorado and Washington both plan to make the tax on cannabis a percentage of the sales price. It would be better to set the tax so as to keep prices similar to what they were on the illicit market, since higher prices would allow the illicit market to continue to exist, and lower prices would increase drug abuse. Since production costs will likely fall over time, Washington’s tax plan risks starting with prices too high and ending up with prices too low. Colorado’s tax starts at too low a level. GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.

  • 34.

    GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.

  • 35.
    • Dr. Kleiman’s suggestions for reducing crime and incarceration rates include: 1. Reducing alcohol consumption and abuse through such measures as higher taxes on alcohol and prohibition of drinking among past abusers… . GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.
    • Drug and alcohol policy can have direct impacts on crime rates. Increasing the alcohol tax is a straightforward way to reduce crime and likely one of the most effective crime control policy steps that could be taken. It would require little administrative effort and would have an immediate effect on the homicide rate. There is also evidence that fetal alcohol exposure contributes to people ending up in prison. GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.
  • 36.

    While raising alcohol taxes would be administratively easy, it would be difficult to do politically, because the vast majority of drinkers don’t suffer from alcohol-related problems and don’t feel that their drinking should be taxed more heavily, because public opinion opposes restrictions on freedom and opposes higher taxes, and because the alcohol industry would be strongly opposed to the change. GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.

  • 37.

    “JRI states used various strategies to address their cost and population drivers; many of the strategies exemplified the themes of evidence-based practices (EBPs) and data-driven decisionmaking. The following are some of the most common JRI legislative provisions and policy reforms.

    • Risk and needs assessments, implemented in 16 JRI states, help predict a person’s risk to reoffend through the identification of criminal risk factors. These assessments inform decisions about detention, incarceration, and release conditions as well as the allocation of supervision and treatment resources.
    • Accountability measures, such as mandatory reporting and certification, were adopted by 15 JRI states. These include ensuring the use of EBPs, requiring that departures from sentencing guidelines be justified, and developing new data reporting requirements to facilitate the evaluation of justice system operations.
    • Earned credits include both good time and earned time credits. These credits provide sentence reductions for inmates who maintain good behavior or participate in prison programs. Earned credits were adopted by 15 JRI states.
    • Intermediate and graduated sanctions establish swift and certain responses, such as short jail stays, for parole and probation technical violators. These sanctions are alternatives to reincarceration. The HOPE (Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement) model for probationers, which couples swift and certain punishment with drug testing, is being piloted in three JRI states. Some states have developed response matrices that include both punitive and incentive-based responses designed to promote offender accountability and positive behavior change. Fifteen JRI states adopted intermediate and graduated sanctions.
    • Community-based treatment programs were developed or expanded in 11 JRI states. States expanded the availability of programming and services by increasing funding for key services such as substance abuse treatment, and many encourage the use of these programs by requiring that reentry plans be developed for exiting prisoners.
    • Sentencing changes and departure mechanisms reorient and reclassify/redefine offenses, revise mandatory minimums, provide safety valves and departure mechanisms, and expand nonincarceration options. A variety of these changes were adopted among the 11 states that made sentencing changes.
    • Mandatory supervision requirements ensure that certain exiting prisoners receive post-release supervision. States may use risk assessments to target serious offenders or those at high risk of reoffending for supervision. This type of policy change was adopted by seven states.
    • Problem-solving courts use an evidence-based approach to provide treatment for offenders with specific needs. To better address the needs of these populations, states either expanded existing problem-solving courts or created new ones. Often, problem-solving courts in JRI states focus on those with substance abuse and mental health disorders. Six JRI states created or expanded problem-solving courts.
    • Streamlined parole processes and expanded parole eligibility facilitate the release of eligible offenders to parole supervision, shortening lengths of stay while ensuring that appropriate supervision conditions are met to protect public safety. Six states streamlined the parole processes, and five expanded eligibility for parole.

    LaVigne et al 2014, pgs. 2-3.

  • 38.
    • Pennsylvania’s reforms are projected to decrease the state’s prison population by 5% relative to the counterfactual of no reform and Kentucky’s are projected to decrease the prison population by 25% relative to the counterfactual. LaVigne et al 2014, pg. 31, Table 6. For this purpose, we ignore Missouri, where we have learned only limited reforms were passed.
    • Using the findings from the first stage, and based on research and experience in other states, the project customizes policy options that are responsive to the particular situation in the state, and then facilitates consensus in the state’s working groups on a package of policy reforms. GiveWell’s notes on an August 23, 2013 conversation with Adam Gelb.
  • 39.

    “To get to a much larger level of incarceration reduction would require expanding the advocacy community working in the field. You’d need more state level think tanks on the left and right making this a priority. You’d need national level think tanks like CAP, New America, Brookings and AEI making this as much of a priority as they do education reform. You’d need writers and publications that could make this a regular beat. You’d possibly need more direct political engagement, to push back against the strongest pro-incarceration forces, like prosecutors. You’d want to get folks like parole and probation officer organizations to get more engaged in the most promising alternatives, with the potential to professionalize those fields and increase their status. And you would want to find ways to support or build new pro-reform grassroots organizations, which are largely lacking. In short, you’d need to really ramp up the advocacy infrastructure on these issues–which compared to other areas like environment and education, is pretty nearly non-existent.” Steve Teles email to GiveWell on April 24, 2014

  • 40.
  • 41.
  • 42.

    LJAF website. Grants. (Accessed March 20, 2014)

  • 43.

    LJAF website. Areas of Focus (Accessed March 20, 2014)

  • 44.

    GiveWell spreadsheet compiling criminal justice grants

  • 45.

    GiveWell spreadsheet compiling criminal justice grants

  • 46.
  • 47.

    GiveWell spreadsheet compiling criminal justice grants

  • 48.

    The Criminal Justice Program distributes approximately $6 million annually in grants. GiveWell’s notes on an August 28, 2013 conversation with Seema Gajwani

  • 49.

    GiveWell’s notes on an August 28, 2013 conversation with Seema Gajwani

  • 50.

    SRF’s domestic policy budget is $7.5 million/year, of which about 20% funds work on criminal justice. GiveWell’s notes from a September 10, 2013 conversation with Mark Steinmeyer

  • 51.

    The Smith Richardson Foundation (SRF) exclusively funds research on policy-relevant topics, such as social welfare, education and criminal justice. GiveWell’s notes from a September 10, 2013 conversation with Mark Steinmeyer

  • 52.

    Despite the success of swift-and-certain-sanctions programs, there is limited funding for research or implementation of this model. For example, more research is needed to determine what the smallest effective punishment is.
    Swift and certain sanctions are a genuine alternative to incarceration and could encourage judges and legislators to grant shorter sentences. An alternative but related approach would be to release convicts from jail early, under close monitoring and swift and certain sanctions.
    GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.

  • 53.
    • “Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections (CSC) works with government leaders to advance criminal justice policies that promote fairness, protect public safety, and ensure that resources are used efficiently.” Vera Center on Sentencing and Corrections Website
    • “Justice reinvestment is a data-driven approach to corrections policy that seeks to cut spending and reinvest savings in practices that have been empirically shown to improve safety and hold offenders accountable. As part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, Vera provides technical assistance to states seeking to apply the approach to their local prison and supervision systems.” Vera Center on Sentencing and Corrections Website
  • 54.

    Vera Center on Sentencing and Corrections Website.

  • 55.
    • Brennan Center website
    • The Justice Program’s strategy for reducing mass incarceration State and federal level reforms have tended to be relatively incremental, not systemic. Brennan works to complement these state reforms with data-driven research and public education aimed at creating a national conversation about CJR. A broader national dialogue is needed to get big picture reform. In particular, the Justice Program aims to demonstrate why mass incarceration is ineffective and design innovative new proposals for reducing the number of prisoners in the US. The Justice Program is focused on reforming the criminal justice system’s front-end. GiveWell’s notes on an August 22, 2013 conversation with Inimai M. Chettiar
  • 56.

    The Justice Program currently has eight staff members, most of whom are lawyers and economics researchers. GiveWell’s notes on an August 22, 2013 conversation with Inimai M. Chettiar

  • 57.
    • Underfunded areas according to Inimai Chettiar of the Brennan Center:
      • Front-end reform: The criminal justice system can be divided into the “front-end” (the point at which people enter the criminal justice system) and the “back-end” (points after an individual is already in the system). Currently, there has been a heavy focus on the back-end. The Justice Program focuses, instead, on front-end solutions to reduce the number of individuals pulled into the pipeline to prison.
      • National-level reform: There is a general sense in the field that there is has been too much of a focus on short-term, quick fix, and jurisdiction-specific solutions. Although justice systems vary in the minutia of their details, the general trends and drivers of incarcerated populations across the country are similar. To really end mass incarceration, we need to garner national will to act. Recognizing that mass incarceration is a national issue (as opposed to something state or city-specific) is necessary to do this. A national discourse is necessary to generate big-ticket ideas and create the political will for systematic reforms.
      • Interdisciplinary Research: There is a need for more public and political education, which requires better data on the harms of overincarceration and how states have reformed their policies without harming public safety

      GiveWell’s notes on an August 22, 2013 conversation with Inimai M. Chettiar

    • Underfunded areas according to Seema Gajwani of the Public Welfare Institute: One tough but critically important space is the nexus between immigration policy and criminal justice. The federal prison system is the fastest growing prison system in the country. Behind recent growth is a sharp rise in criminal prosecutions of immigrant border-crossers over the past decade. Federal policies to target illegal immigration for criminal prosecution have made illegal entry and illegal re-entry the two most prosecuted crimes in the federal judicial system. Border crossing had traditionally been dealt with through the civil justice system, resulting in deportation. Now, people are being federally prosecuted for migration, and it’s costing the U.S. prison system a lot of money to lock them up for years. For decades, drug crimes far outpaced any other federal charge brought by prosecutors, and fueled the growth of the federal prison population. Now, immigration offenders represent one of the fastest growing segments of the federal prison population. Another opportunity to improve the criminal justice system and address the underlying behavioral health issues that fuel criminal behavior is the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The best way to reduce incarceration rates is to divert people who do not need to be in the system. Never before have significant resources been available to courts, prosecutors and defenders seeking to help people with substance abuse and mental health issues who find themselves in the justice system. Currently, the three largest inpatient psychiatric facilities in the country are the LA County jail, Cook County jail in Chicago, and Riker’s Island jail in New York City. We are exploring how to link people who have substance abuse and mental health needs and who get arrested with the public health system. Such an approach would keep them from penetrating deep into the criminal justice system, without access to quality treatment and services. Doing so at scale could be a game changer for the criminal justice system. GiveWell’s notes on an August 28, 2013 conversation with Seema Gajwani
  • 58.

    “This idea set out the core principles on which the current justice reinvestment model is based: an emphasis on data analysis to drive justice system decision-making and the use of cutting-edge research to promote efficiency and generate cost savings that can support the adoption and expansion of additional [evidence based practices] and reduce the strain on state budgets.” LaVigne et al 2014, pg. 6.

  • 59.

    Pew Public Safety Performance Project. Sentencing and Corrections Reforms in Justice Reinvestment States

  • 60.
    • “During their first two months in HOPE, probationers are randomly tested at least once a week (good behavior through compliance and negative drug tests is rewarded with an assignment of a new color associated with less-regular testing).” Hawken and Kleiman 2009, pg. 13.
    • “The consistent application of a behavioral contract improves compliance (Paternoster et al., 1997). Under HOPE every positive drug test and every missed probation appointment is met with a sanction. Parsimonious use of punishment enhances the legitimacy of the sanction package and reduces the potential negative impacts of tougher sentences, such as long prison stays (Tonry, 1996). Under HOPE, offenders are sentenced to very-brief jail stays (typically only a few days in jail) for each violation of the terms of their probation, but the program is progressive in that continued violations result in lengthier sentences.” Hawken and Kleiman 2009, pg. 9.
  • 61.
    • “HOPE probationers include drug-involved probationers, domestic-violence probationers, and sex offenders. This study is limited to drug-involved probationers assigned to HOPE who are not being supervised for domestic violence or sex offenses.” Hawken and Kleiman 2009, pg. 8.
    • Participants in the control group were sentenced to 267 days on average, while participants in the treatment group were sentenced to 138 days on average. Hawken and Kleiman 2009, pg. 64 Table A2.
    • The study does not specify whether this number includes days spent in jail or only days sentenced to prison. We assume that only days sentenced to prison are included.
    • According to officials consulted by the authors for the quasi-experimental portion of the study, probationers serve about 50 percent of prison days to which they are sentenced. “If we assume that actual prison-days are 50 percent of assigned prison-days (consistent with the opinions of officials we consulted), … .” Hawken and Kleiman 2009, pg. 26.
    • Therefore, we estimate that participants in the control group serve 267/2 = 134 days and participants in the treatment group serve 138/2 = 69 days.
    • According to the quasi-experimental portion of the study, participants in the treatment group served about as many days in jail as participants in the comparison group, so we would guess that our estimate of the difference in days incarcerated between the two groups does not depend on our interpretation of this number. “Prison-days is the average number of days sentenced to prison. The prison-sentence difference is statistically significant (p = 0.001), but the difference in jail days served is not (p = 0.423). ” Hawken and Kleiman 2009, pg. 26.
    • 134-69 = 65.
  • 62.

    No-shows were 9% in the HOPE group and 23% in the control group. Positive urine tests were 13% in the HOPE group and 46% in the control group. New arrest rate was 21% in the HOPE group and 47% in the control group. Revocation rate was 7% in the HOPE group and 15% in the control group. Hawken and Kleiman 2009, pg. 64, Table A2.

  • 63.

    “Between 2011 and 2012, entries to probation declined 2.9%, from about 2,109,500 to 2,048,300 offenders.” Bureau of Justice Statistics. Probation and parole in the United States, 2012, pg. 5.

  • 64.
    • About 40% of probationers fail probation. “Failure rates on probation are high and have remained relatively stable (at around 40 percent) (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006).” Hawken and Kleiman 2009, pg. 7. We’d therefore make an extremely rough guess that 60% of probationers are “high risk.”
    • 40% of probationers have a drug crime or DWI/DUI as their most serious offense. We’d guess that the number of “drug-involved” probationers is somewhat larger because drugs are involved in many crimes that are not specifically substance related. Because failing a drug test is a common way to fail probation, we’d guess that there is strong overlap between the drug-involved population and the “high-risk” population.
    • Just 7% of probationers have domestic violence or a sex offense as their most serious offense. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Probation and parole in the United States, 2012, pg. 18, Appendix Table 3.
    • Accounting for overlap among these groups, we’d make an extremely rough guess that 50% of probationers are within the population covered by the RCT of HOPE.
    • We’d guess that expanding HOPE to jurisdictions covering 50% of probationers in an ambitious, but not implausible, policy win.
    • This leads to a guess that about 25% of all probationers might be covered by HOPE after a policy win,
    • We note other concerns about the HOPE RCT, such as its restriction to one state (Hawaii) with a fairly distinctive supervised population and lack of long-term follow up, but don’t adjust for these factors for the purpose of this very rough calculation.
  • 65.

    (2,048,300 people entering probation)*(25% of people entering probation covered by HOPE)*(65 average of days incarceration reduction for person entering HOPE)/(365 days in a year) = 91,178.

  • 66.
  • 67.

    “Again, if we add alcohol testing and position monitoring, the scope could be much greater. In my view, swift-certain-fair sanctioning should replace the random draconianism that currently characterizes probation and parole for the entire population, including juveniles and the (now largely unmonitored) pretrial-release population, which commits about 10% of new felonies. As mentioned above, I’d like to see a further extension: picking prisoners near the end of their terms and granting early release into a tightly monitored SCF program combining alcohol testing, drug testing, and position monitoring. So the estimate is reasonable if you regard on the drug-testing part of the idea as reasonably proven, but otherwise I’d say it’s too modest.” Mark Kleiman email to GiveWell on April 28, 2014

  • 68.

    “I think that it’s easy to underestimate the potential for HOPE-style swift and certain reforms, in terms of reducing incarceration. There’s the possibility that really intensive parole, if done right (adding position monitoring and intensive case management to the regular drug testing of HOPE), could be a functional substitute for a very substantial chunk of the punishment we currently process through the prison system. Could you get the incarceration rate down by 50% if you could build up that alternative system in a really effective way? I think you probably could. But doing so would be a huge, challenging administrative undertaking. And it’s not clear if there would be the political support to build, and then maintain that kind of intense non-incarceration supervisory system. And if you try to get to a 50% cut without building that system first, you could get some very nasty things happening that could lead to serious political backlash. So I think that there’s no problem imagining conceptually that you could cut incarceration by 50% with no threat to public safety. But there are serious, interlocking implementation and political issues involved with doing so. My sense is we should hold out 50% as a goal, but move to it only as fast as we can build a system outside of the prison that works. If we can build that system in a big way, then we get a big incarceration reduction. If we can’t, we get something smaller. But it’s important for people to know that a cut as large as 50% is not conceptually ridiculous. And I say that as someone who is about as anti-Utopian as you get.” Steve Teles email to GiveWell on April 24, 2014

  • 69.

    “In comparison, about 3 in 10 offenders (or 2,228,400) under correctional
    supervision were in the custody of state or federal prisons (1,483,900) or local jails (744,500)” Bureau of Justice Statistics. Correctional Populations in the United States, 2012.

  • 70.

    (2.2 million incarcerated people)*(10 years)*(10% reduction in incarceration) = 2.2 million person years. We conservatively estimate that any 10% reduction in prison population that we achieve will last for just ten years because of our uncertainty about the sustainability of policy change.

  • 71.

    “In 2010, state expenditures totaled $1.9 trillion dollars while state spending on corrections was $48.5 billion.” Bureau of Justice Statistics. State Corrections Expenditures, FY 1982-2010, pg. 1

  • 72.

    $48.5 billion*5% = $2.4 billion.

  • 73.

    “I think that it’s easy to underestimate the potential for HOPE-style swift and certain reforms, in terms of reducing incarceration. There’s the possibility that really intensive parole, if done right (adding position monitoring and intensive case management to the regular drug testing of HOPE), could be a functional substitute for a very substantial chunk of the punishment we currently process through the prison system. Could you get the incarceration rate down by 50% if you could build up that alternative system in a really effective way? I think you probably could. But doing so would be a huge, challenging administrative undertaking. And it’s not clear if there would be the political support to build, and then maintain that kind of intense non-incarceration supervisory system. And if you try to get to a 50% cut without building that system first, you could get some very nasty things happening that could lead to serious political backlash. So I think that there’s no problem imagining conceptually that you could cut incarceration by 50% with no threat to public safety. But there are serious, interlocking implementation and political issues involved with doing so. My sense is we should hold out 50% as a goal, but move to it only as fast as we can build a system outside of the prison that works. If we can build that system in a big way, then we get a big incarceration reduction. If we can’t, we get something smaller. But it’s important for people to know that a cut as large as 50% is not conceptually ridiculous. And I say that as someone who is about as anti-Utopian as you get.” Steve Teles email to GiveWell on April 24, 2014

  • 74.

    Mark Kleiman of UCLA Public School of Affairs is very worth talking to. GiveWell’s notes on a June 12, 2013 conversation with Steve Teles

  • 75.

    Dr. Kleiman has been part of a group working with the state of Washington on their implementation of a market for cannabis. The work involved estimating the size of the market and making policy recommendations. Their recommendations included allowing home delivery and allowing individuals to set their own cannabis quota that can only be changed with 30 days’ notice. A proposal that wasn’t accepted but might be in the future was to limit cannabis production, and specifically to use THC as the basis for limiting it. An important aim was to get the state policy makers to focus on the outcomes of drug policy and not just the purchase process. With alcohol, regulators tend to focus on who can buy and sell alcohol, but with drugs and alcohol it is important to also consider the potential outcomes of any policy in terms of the costs and benefits to individuals and society.

    The group proposed a number of potential projects that would require additional funding. One project would be to understand the process by which the cannabis market will bring in consumers: what they know about cannabis, how they acquire information, and what the state can do to communicate to users and dissuade abuse – including how to design labels and what to include on them, and what information should be distributed by the vendor, on a state website, or via other forms of communication. Cannabis is a complicated drug, so vendors need to be knowledgeable, and the state needs to figure out how to incentivize vendors not to market to drug abusers. The 20% heaviest users account for 80% or more of the volume of drugs consumed, so vendors have a strong incentive to market to abusers.

    Colorado and Washington both plan to make the tax on cannabis a percentage of the sales price. It would be better to set the tax so as to keep prices similar to what they were on the illicit market, since higher prices would allow the illicit market to continue to exist, and lower prices would increase drug abuse. Since production costs will likely fall over time, Washington’s tax plan risks starting with prices too high and ending up with prices too low. Colorado’s tax starts at too low a level. GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman

  • 76.

    US international drug policy is focused on reducing drug flows and putting drug traffickers in prison, not on reducing harm and violence. Drug law enforcement can shape the behavior of rug traffickers; making violence something that attracts enforcement attention could reduce the violence. GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.

  • 77.

    There is surprising little research on the possibly beneficial effects of illicit drugs on the body or the mind. Research on illicit drugs is rare in the US because it is difficult to get permission to use illicit drugs in benefit-oriented or harm-reduction studies. Such research is possible in other countries, such as Israel, the UK, or the Netherlands. Research would allow us to better understand the significance of varying chemical compositions of drugs. Cannabis is a complex drug and states should be able to require labeling that explains the effects of each variety, e.g. the consequences of different THC/CBD ratios, but there is little research on these effects. GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.

  • 78.

    Without technical assistance or relevant advocacy, the cannabis market in Washington and Colorado is likely to end up looking like the alcohol market, where the industry is allowed to promote itself to heavy users with few policy constraints. Historically, alcohol went from being illegal to manufacture or sell to being an ordinary good that is entirely marketable (except to children). Ideally a middle ground could be found for cannabis. If not, there could be a backlash against cannabis legalization. GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman

  • 79.

    SRF gave Mark Kleiman a $40,000 grant about 8 years ago to expand a report he had written for the Department of Justice into a book called When Brute Force Fails. SRF has been influenced by Kleiman’s writings on criminal justice, and Kleiman helped connect SRF to Angela Hawken, the researcher who led the HOPE trial.

    Steinmeyer said that Kleiman has a unique ability to interpret research findings and apply them to how policy should be designed. Whereas other researchers specialize in conducting rigorous studies of individual policies or programs, Steinmeyer noted, Kleiman is good at looking at the big picture. GiveWell’s notes from a September 10, 2013 conversation with Mark Steinmeyer

  • 80.
    • Immediate funding priorities: Dr. Kleiman’s team is looking for funding to work on cannabis policy … . Dr. Kleiman recently presented some of these projects to a foundation with a budget of $175K total, of which the alcohol cross-elasticity study was the largest expense ($65K). The foundation decided not to fund the proposal. Dr. Kleiman could do more on the same set of projects with a budget of $250-300K. GiveWell’s notes on a November 12, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.
    • Dr. Kleiman and his team are prepared to spend up to $1 million per year. With $1 million in funding, Dr. Kleiman would (in addition to the projects described above):
      1. Form a coalition to develop a plan for national marijuana legalization and regulation. The coalition would use data from Colorado and Washington to support the national effort in areas such as research, policy analysis, and advocacy. A political deal on national legalization and regulation might be feasible now but not five years from now, partly because libertarians are currently willing to accept a commercial marijuana market that is less open than the alcohol market, and drug warriors still have some influence but may be willing to compromise. However, as public opinion swings toward marijuana legalization, libertarians might bargain for a more open market, thereby making a political deal less feasible or making the likely deal one in which the commercial marijuana market resembles the alcohol market. Dr. Kleiman views this as the second-worst model, with the worst model being prohibition.
      2. Reduce violence and incarceration attributable to drug laws and their enforcement. David Kennedy and Dr. Kleiman, among others, work on designing drug law enforcement with the aim of reducing violence and incarceration. Budget cuts are causing police layoffs in many cities and states, leading to a politically opportune moment to advocate for more cost-effective drug enforcement. There is theoretical, experimental, and technical work to be done in this area. Some solutions and funding opportunities include:
        • Choosing one particularly violent drug trafficking organization in Mexico and focusing drug enforcement resources on its US-based distributors in order to shut off its US market, thereby disincentivizing drug-related violence in Mexico. Dr. Kleiman has worked with a student group on this idea and has published an article in Foreign Affairs. However, he has never had sufficient funding to work out the plan in detail, and the program is not feasible under the current administration of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
        • Documenting best practices for violence-minimizing drug-law enforcement; providing handbooks for new police chiefs, attorneys general, and governors.
      3. Putting together a group to determine the most effective ways to use new funding designated for drug treatment. Under the Affordable Care Act, drug treatment coverage will be expanded to its greatest extent in US history, so ensuring that that funding is channeled into effective programs will have a tremendously beneficial effect.
      4. Support efforts to replace the current system for probation and parole violations (random but draconian punishment) with modest but swift and certain sanctions. Properly implemented, such programs improve outcomes by greatly reducing drug abuse, re-offending, and incarceration.
        • It is crucial to provide interested jurisdictions with a support team to help set up and evaluate “swift and certain” community corrections. Though this kind of support does not require many resources, it is currently lacking, which currently forms a barrier for some jurisdictions.
        • The federal Justice Department has awarded grants to four counties, including Essex County, MA, to replicate the Honest Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program, which uses “swift and certain” sanctions. The Massachusetts legislature recently funded a replication project in an additional site, which may be in need of technical support. This support would cost about $50K.
        • Beau Kilmer’s team at the RAND Drug Policy Research Center has generated important results in its evaluation of South Dakota’s 24/7 Sobriety, a swift-and-certain approach to drunk driving and domestic violence. http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300989. There are currently unfunded research opportunities to explore similar programs in other states and to conduct randomized controlled trials.

  • 81.

    Dr. Kleiman recently presented some of these projects to a foundation with a budget of $175K total, of which the alcohol cross-elasticity study was the largest expense ($65K). GiveWell’s notes on a November 12, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman.

  • 82.

    Mark Kleiman. Proposed project list.

  • 83.

    “identify key outcome dimensions to consider in evaluating legalization. Determine which are measurable and how to measure them, and identify those that need to be measured before the change takes place. Estimate the cost to carry out the urgent part of the data-gathering effort.” Mark Kleiman. Proposed project list.

  • 84.

    “Create a website where a jurisdiction interested in implementing swift and certain sanctions for probation and parole violations could get all the information necessary to decide whether to do so, design a program, and design an evaluation. This would include a comprehensive review of the results of such programs in the past, including Hawaii HOPE, Texas SWIFT, and Washington State WISP, details on potential barriers to implementation, and promising areas for future research that sites might want to consider addressing in their evaluations.” Mark Kleiman. Proposed project list.

  • 85.

    ” Develop and field-test instruments to measure self-command, delayed gratification, and perceptions of fairness among offenders subject to swift-and-certain sanctions programs to determine which, if any, predict outcomes. The goal would be to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the success of such programs and thereby improve program design and management.” Mark Kleiman. Proposed project list.

  • 86.

    Mark Kleiman. Proposed project list.

  • 87.

    ” Cannabis legalization may bring with it the risk of substantial increases in problem cannabis use. Sweden had some success in the past with monthly quotas on alcohol purchases. An alternative that has never been seriously discussed would be to create a system of user-set quotas. The project would be to design such a system, identifying likely weak points and unwanted side-effects and proposing remedies.” Mark Kleiman. Proposed project list.

  • 88.

    “Her research interests are primarily in drugs, crime, and corruption.” Angela Hawken homepage

  • 89.
    • Another guy to read about this is Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy/Department of Criminology, and someone else is Angela Hawken at Pepperdine. There’s enormous amount of absorptive capacity in this space. Those two and Kleiman could be out doing field work, varying treatments, etc. but there’s very little funding. Check out their evaluation of the Hawaii HOPE program. GiveWell’s notes on a June 12, 2013 conversation with Steve Teles
    • Other people to talk to … Angela Hawken – Associate Professor at Pepperdine University. She has done a lot of the research on the HOPE program and could share much of the evidence from that project and talk about the funding landscape of criminal justice and drug policy. GiveWell’s notes on a July 2, 2013 conversation with Mark Kleiman
  • 90.

    “To create a larger and more diverse database of crime-reduction approaches, we propose creating a Center for Practitioner-Led Trials (CPT). The purpose of the Center would be to offer an array of training and services to expand the number of practitioners and jurisdictions that are conducting small, but rigorous trials of innovative practices. These include web-based training, monthly webinars on topical issues (which will be archived), assessment tools (sample-size recommendations, templates for data entry, randomization tools, scoring software), and an RCT call-in hotline to offer additional support to practitioners using the RCT tools, to help practitioners test promising ideas new approaches to running their operations.

    In addition, the Center would provide recommendations for tracking core outcome measures (to facilitate comparisons across trials) and automated prompts to remind practitioners to update outcomes data at key follow-up points. The goal would be to help launch hundreds of simple, practitioner-initiated pilot RCTs, none of which would be perfect but would, in aggregate, provide evidence of which kinds of approaches (or changes to operational procedures) are worthy of further study and which are not. The Center would also serve as a clearinghouse of promising ideas. We regularly meet practitioners who have great ideas, but who are not known to researchers interested in corrections interventions. The market for innovative corrections practices suffers neither from inadequate supply nor insufficient demand, but from an information disconnect, which this Center would help obviate.” BetaGov proposal, pgs. 2-3.

  • 91.
    • “There is a strange irony in the dependence on academia to stimulate a concerted hunt for effective interventions: although it may take a Ph.D. to find trends and control for confounds in quasi- experimental data, the strongest design—a randomized controlled trial (RCT)—is the easiest to analyze. With a little help, anyone can do it—at least at the pilot level.” BetaGov proposal, pg. 2.
    • By collecting ideas, enabling and encouraging practitioners to conduct RCTs, and sharing the results, BetaGov will dramatically increase the evidence available for public sector programs. GiveWell’s notes on a September 16, 2013 with Angela Hawken.
  • 92.

    A jurisdiction in a western state wanted to run a trial of the HOPE program (with random drug testing once per month instead of six times per month), but didn’t have additional funds for the research. Rather than apply for funding from the National Institute of Justice and delay the trial, Hawken’s team helped the jurisdiction implement the trial immediately using their own resources and data it was already collecting. The trial was completed in short order and did not replicate HOPE’s success. The trial did not cost the agency any additional funding.

    Hawken’s team is helping this same state with another RCT as well.

    Washington

    Hawken’s team is currently doing a substantial amount of work with Washington State. Washington is innovative and eager to test its programs, and Hawken’s team is working closely alongside practitioners there to launch RCTs of variations of HOPE. For example, varying the frequency of drug testing and the length of sanctions. The goal of the Washington RCTs is to find the least-intrusive testing schedule and minimum sanctions that still achieve the desired behavior change.

    Washington rolled out its version of HOPE across the entire state in a few months; more than ten thousand offenders were enrolled in the program. Hawken noted that this is the largest transformation in community corrections that she’s seen in her career. She initially predicted the statewide rollout would fail (she was of the opinion that the large-scale effort would overwhelm community corrections and law enforcement). Having observed the experience in Washington closely, she now believes that the expansion has gone fairly well. She attributes this to good leadership from DOC management and an inspired implementation team who helped coordinate the participation of the thousands of people who are involved in implementing the program. GiveWell’s notes on a September 16, 2013 with Angela Hawken.

  • 93.

    Angela Hawken email to GiveWell on September 17, 2013

  • 94.

    “There has always been a need for more rigorous research on crime reduction, but the current need is underscored by the widespread agreement that publicly funded crime-reduction approaches should be “evidence based.” This is a critical issue: at a time when there appears to be unprecedented bipartisan support to expand rehabilitative programs for offenders, there is a dearth of rigorously vetted program options from which to choose.” BetaGov proposal, pg. 2.

  • 95.
    • It might be possible to make a difference in the shorter term on criminal justice, especially at the state and local level. There are definitely bipartisan opportunities to make progress. Even ten years ago, a lot of people interested in criminal justice reform were exploring a lot of conservative connections. Criminal justice issues that currently have traction include working against mandatory minimums, working toward legalization of marijuana, and others. GiveWell’s notes on May 22 and June 14, 2013 conversations with Mark Schmitt
    • Mr. LaMarche agrees with GiveWell’s view that criminal justice reform is a promising area with unusual potential for bipartisan coalitions. GiveWell’s notes on an October 31, 2013 conversation with Gara LaMarche .
    • Conservatives are becoming more for prison reform – as the party as shifted to the right, they start to see prison as another form of government they want to get rid of. This is happening with military spending as well. So this creates opportunities for liberals to cut spending on things like military and incarceration. GiveWell’s notes on a June 12, 2013 conversation with Steve Teles.
  • 96.

    Steve Teles conversation with GiveWell on May 9, 2013