Major Completed Projects

JSTEPS: Using Rewards in Justice Treatment Programs: Technology & Contingency Management - Completed

This five-site research project aimed to guide each participating court through the implementation of an individualized Contingency Management (CM) protocol. CM interventions use systematic reinforcement with rewards (or punishment) to alter problem behaviors, usually substance use, with individuals. Rewards have been used widely in clinical treatment programs. They have been shown to successfully change targeted behaviors of substance abusers, including decreasing the number of positive drug tests and increasing treatment attendance.

The process of developing and implementing such an intervention in criminal justice settings takes several steps. In this study, ACE! assisted each court through the implementation from the formation of a local multidisciplinary team to the utilization of new technology tools, and the formation of a larger supportive network of courts also implementing a rewards system.

Download the Study Information Sheet

Download JSTEPS Manual

Key Staff:

  • PI: Faye S. Taxman, Ph.D.
  • Project Manager: Amy Murphy

Funding Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, U01 DA 01621

Study Location(s): Confidential

Major Goals:

Research sites were given discretion in developing their own point systems for their local environments. They developed point systems where clients receive points for positive behaviors, including abstaining from drug and alcohol use, attending counseling and other supporting activities, and working toward long-term goals, e.g., looking for a job or attending school.

Behaviors are color-coded: red=criminal behavior, non-negotiable; orange=drug and alcohol use, non-negotiable for most sites; yellow=behaviors that support abstinence, such as attendance; green=behaviors that support recovery, moving toward long-term goals.

ACE! requested that site teams keep in consideration the following principles of CM when developing point systems.

  • Provide positive incentives to clients via a point system.
  • Establish clear guidelines about the required behaviors and which behaviors earn points.
  • Emphasize abstinence as a key objective.
  • Provide adequate incentives early in the program to get folks started on the right foot.
  • Use point escalation to promote sustained good performance.
  • Integrate point system into the normal operation of the court (e.g. phase systems).
  • Use bonuses to reinforce incentives for positive behavior.
  • Require no more than three behaviors at a time.
  • Choose the areas where the client is “falling down” and shifting to a positive by rewarding his or her efforts to improve in that area.

Major Findings:

  • Contingency management is feasible to be implemented in justice organizations.
  • Probation agencies have a difficult time to limit the number of conditions where rewards can be offered.
  • Probation agencies can adapt contingency management in different programs and services, but the implementation is facilitated by alignment to programming (phases) in different scenarios.
  • Probation agencies can sustain the use of incentives when the probation department and/or problem solving court when resources are available for th incentives.


Taxman, Faye, Anne Rhodes, Danielle S. Rudes, Shannon Portillo, Any Murphy & Nicole Jordan (2010).  JSTEPS: Using structured rewards and sanctions in justice supervision programs Fairfax, VA:  Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence!

Portillo, S., Rudes, D.S., & Taxman, F.S. (2014).  The Transportability of Contingency Management in Problem-Solving Courts.  Justice Quarterly. 267-290. DOI:10.1080/07418825.2014.902490

Taxman, F.S. & Rudes. D.S. (2014). Implementation of contingency management in probation agencies using a case controlled longitudinal design: a PDSA study protocol. Health & Justice.

Portillo, S., Rudes, D.S., Viglione, J., Nelson, M. & Taxman, F.S. (2013). Front-stage stars and backstage producers: The role of judges in problem-solving courts. Victims & Offenders, 8(1), 1-22. DOI: 10.1080/15564886.2012.685220.

Murphy, A., Rhodes, A., & Taxman, F.S. (2012). Adaptability of contingency management in justice settings: Survey findings on attitudes toward using rewards.  Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 43(2): 168-177.

Rudes, D.S., Portillo, S., Murphy, A., Rhodes, A., Stitzer, M., Loungo, P., & Taxman, F.S. (2011). Adding positive reinforcements in a criminal justice setting: Acceptability and feasibility. The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Apr; 42(3): 260-70.

Hiller, M., Belenko, S., Taxman, F.S., Young, D.W., Perdoni, M., & Saum, C. (2010). Measuring drug court structure and operations: Key components and beyond.  Criminal Justice & Behavior, 37(9): 933-950. DOI: 10.1177/0093854810373727

Key Presentations:

JSTEPS Session Featured at National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) Annual Conference. Hynes Convention Center, Boston, MA. June 3, 2010.

JSTEPS Session Featured at American Parole and Probation Association’s Annual Training Institute. Washington, DC. August 17, 2010.