Evaluating Delaware's Decide Your Time Protocol for Drug-Using Offenders Under Community Supervision


Interventions that apply deterrence through the principles of certain apprehension and swift response using graduated sanctions and incentives have shown promise in reducing relapse, violations and recidivism among drug-using offenders. NIJ's evaluation of Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program, for example, showed that program participants were less likely to be arrested for a new crime or to have their probation revoked.

The Delaware Department of Correction's (DOC's) Decide Your Time protocol is based on these same principles. With funding from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), NIJ awarded a grant to the University of Delaware to conduct a field experiment. Findings will inform and improve criminal justice and public health policy and practice regarding relapse, violations and recidivism among chronic drug-using offenders in the community. [1]

Description — Decide Your Time Protocol

The Decide Your Time Protocol is for serious offenders serving intensive supervision sentences under probation or parole. The protocol was developed by the Delaware DOC based on past research projects with the University of Delaware, such as the Step'n Out behavioral management program for parolees.

Protocol Eligibility — Offenders under intensive supervision are placed into the protocol after they fail their first urine test. Offenders who originally were sentenced to less intensive supervision but have been placed under intensive supervision because of a failed urine test are also eligible.

Drug Testing — Initially, urine tests are administered on a random basis, averaging once per week. If results are positive, then the schedule is increased to two regular tests per week. Testing negative for 90 days is a requirement for transition to less intensive supervision. In addition to monitoring drug use, testing is used as a motivational tool — more tests are perceived as a sanction, and fewer tests as a reward.

Decide Your Time Protocol

Decide Your Time Protocol
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Sanctions and Incentives —
The protocol applies graduated sanctions and incentives to motivate behavior change. At protocol intake, offenders are provided protocol information and an explanation of how their drug use is linked to protocol phases. Continued drug use progressively leads to mandated treatment, more frequent testing, curfew and incarceration sanctions. Abstinence leads to removal of these sanctions; the ultimate incentive for continued abstinence is reclassification to standard community supervision.

Offenders who remains drug free transition to less intensive levels of supervision, allowing resources to be redistributed to those in need. Offenders who do not remain drug free are reassessed for treatment and other service needs. Outpatient treatment is mandated after repeated positive drug tests. Depending on clinical need, treatment modalities including long-term residential services are available. Probationers who are compliant at any phase for 30 days move back to the initial level of supervision. Offender at the initial level of supervision who are successful for 30 days move to the lowest level of supervision. At any phase, officers can violate probation or parole for cause.

Determining If It Works — NIJ's Field Experiment

The purpose of NIJ's field experiment is to inform and improve criminal justice and public health policy and practice regarding relapse, violations and recidivism among chronic drug-using offenders in the community.

The Delaware DOC randomly assigns new probationers and parolees who test positive for drugs to standard probation versus the Decide Your Time protocol. Researchers will analyze criminal history and other archival data for 400 program and 400 control group probationers; drug use and other interview data for 100 randomly selected probation "successes" and "failures" at follow-up; and program process, fidelity and cost information.

NIJ's objectives are to identify cost-efficient programs that detect and address drug-involved offenders and to improve probation and parole practices and management of drug treatment and criminal justice resources without jeopardizing public safety.

Learn about project implementation from "Decide your time: Testing deterrence theory's certainty and celerity effects on substance-using probationersExit Notice," Journal of Criminal Justice, Volume 39, Issue 3, May-June 2011, Pages 261-267.


[note 1] In collaboration with ONDCP and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIJ issued a research solicitation (pdf, 16 pages) and awarded NIJ grant 2009-IJ-CX-0003 to the University of Delaware.

Date Modified: June 17, 2011