Reduction of drug-offender recidivism focus of 3.5-year study

October 18, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State’s Justice Center for Research has received part of a 3.5-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance to study a program that could reduce recidivism rates among drug offenders nationwide. The Justice Center, which received $522,000, will work in tandem with Research Triangle Institute (RTI), analyzing data collected at four correctional agencies in Oregon, Arkansas, Massachusetts and Texas.

Called the Honest Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) project, the program is designed to deter drug offenders from continued abuse by implementing a policy of frequent testing and brief, mandatory incarcerations (from one to three days) for each offense. If the Justice Center’s research finds that the program can be successful, its broad application could reduce the cost of drug-abuse-related correctional measures by limiting the length of prison sentences, reducing the rate of repeat offenses and reserving space in drug treatment programs only for those who truly cannot get well on their own.

Doris MacKenzie, director of the Justice Center for Research and co-principal investigator on the project, said she and her colleagues at Penn State and RTI will be breaking new ground as they study the HOPE program.

“This is a very exciting project, and we will be producing a new body of research,” MacKenzie said. “There was one study in Hawaii, where the program was first implemented, that appears to demonstrate that HOPE can be effective. This research will determine whether the program can be rolled out on a wide scale and be successful in reducing criminal activity and drug involvement.”

The Justice Center for Research, established at Penn State in 2009, is a partnership of the College of the Liberal Arts, University Outreach and the Justice and Safety Institute focused on helping local, state, federal and international communities with criminal justice research and policy. MacKenzie said the grant is a testament to the success of the Justice Center’s work to merge the University’s outreach efforts with faculty expertise in the areas of criminology and justice research.

“Overall, the federal government is putting a lot of money into this research. The grant really emphasizes the engaged university that the Justice Center for Research is trying to promote,” she said. “We have many faculty members who are outstanding researchers, and we have the Justice and Safety Institute training law enforcement officials. The center is designed to bring all this expertise together and really engage the university in the criminal justice community.”

MacKenzie will be joined on the project by co-principal investigator Pam Lattimore, principal scientist in RTI’s Crime, Justice Policy and Behavior Program; co-investigator Gary Zajac, managing director of the Justice Center for Research; and a team of Penn State research assistants and graduate students.

In addition to work on the HOPE grant, the Justice Center for Research also is working on two research initiatives with the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a study of Pennsylvania’s use of the death penalty, and is involved in ongoing research with the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to develop effective methods of risk assessment in Pennsylvania’s sentencing, resentencing, parole and recommitment guidelines.

For more information about the Justice Center for Research, visit online, call 814-867-3292 or email

Last Updated October 21, 2011