Setting the Record Straight on HOPE Probation: Memo from the Founder

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Judge Steve Alm

BY JUDGE STEVE ALM – I watched the recent Hawaii Reporter television interview featuring Honolulu City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro and Deputy Attorney General Kevin Takata with great interest.

Mr. Kaneshiro made some statements about HOPE Probation and Drug Court that are inaccurate and I thought it was important to set the record straight.


First, Mr. Kaneshiro said the offenders in Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement, or HOPE, don’t have access to drug treatment.  That is incorrect.

While we have discovered that many in HOPE are able to stop using drugs or alcohol on their own without going to treatment (knowing they will get a short jail term for every positive drug test or missed appointment), many others will need treatment to help them overcome their addictions.

Currently, there are hundreds of HOPE probationers in substance abuse treatment on Oahu, including at the three largest programs: Hina Mauka, Salvation Army’s Addiction Treatment Services (or ATS), and the Sand Island Treatment Center.  And their respective Directors, CEO Alan Johnson, President Larry Williams, and Director Mason Henderson are all strong HOPE supporters.

As Alan Johnson says, “Treatment works but it works even better when the person is in HOPE.”

The treatment programs appreciate HOPE’s “Behavioral Triage” approach.

If a probationer can show the court that he or she can stop using drugs and/or alcohol on their own (by showing up and testing negative at their frequent, random drug tests), then I don’t order them to go to treatment.

On the other hand, if they request treatment or are unable to stop using drugs and/or alcohol on their own, then they are referred to treatment.  This triage approach preserves precious treatment slots for those who really need them.

And the probationers persevere in treatment because they know there will be consequences if they drop out.  In fact, Mason Henderson has said that he wants every probationer sent to Sand Island Treatment Center from the courts to be in HOPE to ensure they will be held accountable in a swift and certain manner.

Secondly, Mr. Kaneshiro said that as HOPE has grown from 34 probationers to now over 2,000, then “you can’t supervise all these people,” and that “those in HOPE had a 50% recidivism rate.”

Actually, the 2,000+ probationers in HOPE are now under meaningful supervision with swift and certain consequences for any violation of probation.  Most are doing very well and substantially better than those on probation-as-usual.

This conclusion is supported by gold-standard, top of the line research by Dr. Angela Hawken of Pepperdine and UCLA.  Probationers in HOPE were found to be arrested for a new crime 55% less often and were sentenced to serve 48% fewer days in prison in Hawaii or on the mainland, compared to the control group on probation-as-usual.  A summary of Dr. Hawken’s research can be found at at the Pew Center.

Mr. Kaneshiro also referenced the Hawaii’s Most Wanted feature in Midweek magazine and points out that many of those featured are in HOPE.  He is right about that, but that doesn’t mean that HOPE isn’t working.

As HOPE probationers are now being held accountable for evading their responsibilities on probation, there are always going to be some warrants that will need to be served.  We appreciate Sgt. Kim Buffet and Crime Stoppers’ efforts to identify HOPE absconders and feature them in Hawaii’s Most Wanted (just as we appreciate absconders being featured on KGMB News on Wednesday mornings and KHON news on Saturday evening).

It is usually the absconder’s family member (or the offender themself!) who call the police or the sheriffs to help get the offender into custody.  They know it’s better to get picked up on a warrant than to get arrested for a new crime.

Our law enforcement entities (HPD, Sheriffs, U. S. Marshals) have looked at the research themselves (e.g., HOPE probationers being arrested for new crimes 55% less often than the control group on probation-as-usual).  They know that by doing more work at the front end by serving warrants, they are not having to spend the many hours investigating the car thefts, the assaults, or the burglaries that would otherwise be taking place.

That’s why Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, Sheriff Shawn Tsuha and United States Marshal Gervin Miyamoto are such strong HOPE supporters.  They know HOPE works and by putting in the extra work in serving warrants, they are not only saving that investigation time for crimes that are not committed, but they are also actually preventing crimes from occurring in the first place, and are preventing Hawaii’s residents and visitors from being victimized.

Mr. Kaneshiro also criticized HOPE by saying that, “HOPE is taking valuable bed space for those who need it in Drug Court.”

That is not accurate either.  Drug Court has been in existence since 1994 and is an entirely separate program.   Drug Court runs its own intensive outpatient drug treatment classes (IOP) and works with all of the treatment programs on Oahu, including, among others, Hina Mauka, Salvation Army ATS, and Sand Island Treatment Center.  Everyone in Drug Court who currently needs treatment, is receiving treatment, either in-house or at one of our fine drug treatment programs.

Drug Court is currently bigger than ever and running very well.  In fact, now over 80% of the Drug Court clients (virtually all who are not in residential treatment or disabled) are now employed as well, paying taxes and court ordered fees, fines and restitution.

HOPE Probation and Drug court are two of the proven solutions for our drug-involved offenders and the Judiciary is proud of both programs.  We also want to acknowledge the important roles the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office, the Attorney Genera’s Office and the Office of the Public Defender play in Drug Court and HOPE.  By staffing all of the court appearances for both programs, they are critical participants in the programs’ success.

Our shared success with both Drug Court and HOPE is getting attention not only locally but also nationally, and internationally, and we couldn’t be prouder.

HOPE Probation and Parole programs have been started in Alaska, Arizona (5, including 2 for juveniles), Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire and Washington State.  This year, the United States Department of Justice is sponsoring HOPE Probation replications in Arkansas, Texas, Massachusetts and Oregon with top of the line research by the Research Triangle Institute of North Carolina and Penn State University.  The state of Washington has recently made a system-wide commitment to HOPE.  In May, the governor signed legislation and since June 1st, they have placed more than 10,000 of the 16,000 highest-risk probationers and parolees in their HOPE program.

With all parts of the criminal justice system working smarter and harder, we are preventing victimization and crime, helping offenders and their families, and saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

Any and all viewers are invited to come and observe both programs in action in my courtroom, 777 Punchbowl Street, 3rd floor, Courtroom 5.  Drug Court convenes every Monday at 8:30am, and HOPE court runs Tuesdays through Fridays starting at 8:30am.
Steve Alm is a judge with the First Circuit Court of Hawaii and the founder of HOPE





  1. If a probationer can display the judge that he or she can quit using medication and/or liquor on their own (by displaying up and examining adverse at their regular, unique medication tests), then I don't purchase them to go to therapy.
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  2. Sites should be like this. Complete of important info and simple to use. Really satisfied to get the deal with of this web page.
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  3. I think that the judge and his conpadres should focuson the drug abuse that our nation's big pharmeceuticals and medical establishment (phsyciatrists,phsycologists) are causing fpr millions of American that are legally prescribed prescription drugs in the form of phsyciatric/psycotropic medications that have serious and sometimes fatal side-effects and are routinely given to patients with "mental health issues", most of these prescription drugs are just as chemically mind altering and toxic as stuff sold on the streets.and there has been a push by the drug companies and medical establishment to push psycotropic medication on children for such bogussymptoms like ADHD and ADD.

  4. I like the fact that we now have two programs that are showing some successes. We need more like this around the country, so hopefully, other judges will follow what Judge Alm is doing. Drug addiction needs more help than, "go and get off drugs yourself…if you want it bad it enough, you can do it". Programs are needed to keep an eye on people suffering with addiction. They need to know that people care and are there to give them a supportive nudge to stay clean. Programs like alternative treatments need to be more widely publicized.

  5. please go back and read what I posted 3 weeks ago.thanks. and the judicial system here is corrupt.

  6. The statistics recorded in the HOPE probation program are based on illegal prison terms longer than what HRS 706-62 (2) (a) allowed Judge Alm to give.
    As a point of comparison, it should be noted that disgraced Pennsylvania Judge Ciavarella only stretched the law with inadequate sentences for personal gain. In that case, even one day of illegal imprisonment is a more severe crime as the law is no longer stretched but wittingly broken: no judge should stand above the law, even for one illegal day in jail!
    Furthermore, HOPE probation is not restricted to drug offenders. It is time the statistics of other offenders under HOPE probation be recorded and compared to that of drug offenders. Again everyone should be equal in front of the law, even on probation.

  7. How can the Kauai drug court administrator get a dui in 2009 while he is a probation officer and get promoted to drug court administrator two years later. look it up in ecourt records.

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