A new program in Pennsylvania could be key to keeping non-violent drug offenders from re-offending | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A new program in Pennsylvania could be key to keeping non-violent drug offenders from re-offending 

“These results point to the fact that this new approach is showing positive outcomes.”


According to a 2014 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, an economic-policy think tank, non-violent drug offenders account for approximately one-fourth of all offenders in jail or prison. 

In 1980, by comparison, they accounted for just one-tenth of that population. And according to a 2014 report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the country’s highest re-arrest rates at the time were for non-violent drug offenders. 

But a program in Pennsylvania is working to reduce these numbers. And according to a preliminary study, that work is paying off. A recent report found that a new Department of Corrections pilot program is lowering the probability that an inmate will be re-arrested upon release.

“We are working aggressively and strategically to reduce future criminality of individuals in our charge,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said in a statement. “These results point to the fact that this new approach is showing positive outcomes.”

Last year, through a partnership with researchers at Drexel University, the DOC implemented a new disciplinary program aimed at non-violent drug offenders. Known as SIP-HOPE, it was put into effect at two community corrections centers, including Riverside CCC in Pittsburgh, as part of the State Intermediate Punishment (SIP) program.

“The results of this study show an impressive 13-percent reduction in re-arrests among SIP-HOPE participants,” Bret Bucklen, director of research and planning for the DOC, said in a statement. “Further, SIP-HOPE participants spent fewer days in prison or jail, demonstrating the ability of this approach to not only reduce crime but also to reduce the use of costly prison beds.”

The basic premise of SIP-HOPE is simple: Participants who violate the program’s ban on drugs and alcohol are punished immediately with a few days in jail. 

SIP is a 24-month sentence for non-violent drug offenders that incorporates both inpatient and outpatient drug treatment. As part of the SIP-HOPE program, participants are given a clear set of rules to follow. As reinforcement, the rules are prominently displayed on posters in the facilities. 

Participants are breathalyzed each time they enter the facility and are subject to random drug-testing. If an individual violates one of the rules, SIP-HOPE staff take what is known as a swift, certain and fair (SCF) supervision approach. First-time violators receive 24 hours in prison. Those committing subsequent offenses receive additional time in prison and risk expulsion from the program. 

Once the punishments are completed, inmates are allowed to continue through the program as if no violation had occurred. 

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the SCF supervision model is a leading evidence-based model for improving public safety within community-based corrections,” Bucklen said.

According to Bucklen, the results seen in Pennsylvania are similar to those found in a dozen other states that have implemented similar programs. Pennsylvania’s program was modeled after the Hawaii Opportunity Probation Experiment.



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