Search Appropriateness Statement Package
Providing Incentives – Evidence-based practice
Summary of the Evidence
- Incentives are a way to change behavior by rewarding clients for addressing pre-determined goals and complying with supervision conditions.
- Incentives are effective with diverse populations.
- Incentives are generally found to be more effective than sanctions at changing behavior; it is recommended to give four incentives for each sanction (4:1 ratio).
- Supervision staff and people involved in the criminal legal system (the “criminal justice” or “legal” system is referred to as the criminal legal system in this document) generally support the use of incentives.
- Supervision staff particularly favor the use of incentives with medium- and high-risk clients.
What Are Incentives?
- Incentives are an important part of the behavior change process.
- Incentives are reinforcers for desired behaviors.
- “Contingency management” refers to the offering of incentives or rewards for positive behavior change.
- Contingency management is effective in substance use treatment settings.
How Are Incentives Used?
- Several forms of contingency management have shown promise in reinforcing patterns of behavior change.
- Some programs provide participants with a choice of various rewards (some monetary and others social).
- Some programs increase the amount of the reward offered to participants the longer they maintain the pattern of behavior change.
- Some programs allow participants to draw from a prize bowl containing redeemable slips for prizes. The number of draws a participant receives increases as they maintain the pattern of behavior change and resets back to one if they slip up.
- The principles of contingency management can be applied to reinforce many indicators of behavior change.
- First the individual/officer must agree on goals and short-term steps.
- The agreement should include what behaviors are to be reinforced and how frequently the incentives are given.
- During the early phase, it is important to reward often and frequently to get a neuro-physical reaction.
- During the later phase, incentives should be staggered to maintain the changed behavior.
- Incentives can be financial (gift card, voucher, etc.) or social (use computers in the office, get a letter from the officer indicating they are doing well).
- Positive behaviors may include seeking employment, taking educational classes, participating in community activities, etc.
- Desistance from negative behaviors can also be included (e.g., refraining from hanging out with friends the client has identified as detrimental to the desired behavior change, successfully resisting a temptation to commit a crime, etc.).
- Incentives can come in several forms.
- Financial prize-based incentives include items like TV sets, gaming systems and radios.
- Social rewards like reduced-supervision incentives include actions like reducing a client’s time on supervision, the number of visits they are required to make to the probation office each week/month, and the frequency they are required to submit for drug testing.
- Financial practical incentives include items that help clients (and potentially facilitate compliance with other supervision conditions), such as transportation vouchers and cell phone minutes.
How Can They Be Used to Monitor Compliance?
- Incentives are designed to change client behavior and should not be used to monitor compliance.
How Can They Be Used as a Supervision Tool?
- Incentives can encourage positive behavior (e.g., seeking employment, taking educational classes, participating in community activities, etc.) and compliance with supervision conditions.
- Incentives can help with establishing goals.
- Incentives discourage negative behavior that can lead to the client not receiving the incentive (e.g., refraining from hanging out with friends the client has identified as detrimental to the desired behavior change, successfully resisting a temptation to commit a crime, etc.). This discourages noncompliance with supervision conditions.
What Are the Costs of Incentives?
- Incentives vary in cost.
- Prize-based incentives are generally the most expensive.
- Practical incentives vary in cost but are generally affordable when they come in the form of transportation vouchers and cell phone minutes.
- Reduced-supervision incentives have no cost and may save the supervision department money by taking less officer time to meet with clients.
- Some incentives (such as social incentives) do not have an associated cost.
What Do Supervision Staff Think About Incentives?
- Supervision staff report that incentives are
- sometimes appropriate for all low-risk clients and
- always appropriate for medium- and high-risk clients, except those who have committed intimate partner violence, for whom it is sometimes appropriate.
What Should You Expect When Using Incentives?
- Encourage setting small steps (goals).
- Achieve longer-term goals.
- Incentives can promote behavior change and encourage client compliance with the conditions of supervision if a client is not being compliant.
- Incentives may help build a working alliance between officer and client by showing that the officer is interested in the client’s wellbeing.
- Incentives shift attention to progress and goals instead of compliance.
- Incentives may show a client that the officer is not solely interested in punishing them. This can help foster a more trusting relationship between officer and client.
- Practical incentives like bus passes and cell phone minutes (things which help the client complete their daily tasks and/or conditions of supervision) may also show the client that the officer wants to help them succeed on supervision.
Are Incentives an Evidence-Based Practice?
- Yes, evidence shows that incentives are effective at changing behavior.
- Incentives are generally more effective than sanctions.
What Do People Formerly Involved in the Criminal Legal System Think About Incentives?
- People who have been involved in the criminal legal system report that incentives are
- sometimes appropriate for all low-, medium-, and high-risk clients.
Communication That Strengthens the Officer-Client Relationship (Messaging)
- Clearly lay out the ground rules of the incentive, including:
- under what conditions the client will receive an incentive (same is true for sanctions)
- under what conditions the client will not receive an incentive
- the process by which a client can begin to receive the incentive again if they fail to meet the conditions to receive it
- what the incentive is and how the client can redeem it (if applicable)
- Ensure that the client understands that the incentive is being given in response to positive behavior on their part.
- Connect the client’s receipt of the incentive to something they are actively doing (or not doing).
Special Considerations When Using Incentives with Subpopulations
Gang-involved clients may have concerns that receiving incentives may be seen by other gang-involved peers as cooperating with law enforcement and may result in retaliation. Officers should help gang-involved clients to navigate these issues, explain to peers the purpose of incentives, and stay safe.
Incentives (and the possibility of losing incentives) may help decrease violent behavior and get individuals to think about and reconsider violence before committing it.
Intimate Partner Violence
Incentives can help address behaviors (like alcohol or narcotics use) that may contribute to intimate partner violence.
Serious Mental Illness
Incentives are usually effective with people who experience mental illness and may be a way to encourage participation in a treatment program.
Substance Use Disorder
Contingency management with rewards for abstinence from drugs has been studied extensively and is an evidence-based practice.