Opportunities to influence behavior through the use of electronic reminders has not been examined in a criminal justice population. The purpose of this study was to assess probationer preferences for short-term goals from a web-based program and evaluate the role of voluntary electronic reminders (e.g., text messaging, email) in achieving early treatment and probation tasks.
We used data from drug-involved offenders (n = 76) participating in a clinical trial of a 2-session motivational computer program. As part of the program, participants could choose to receive text or email reminders about their probation and treatment goals for the next month. Poisson regression models were utilized to evaluate goal and reminder selection in relation to the days of substance use and treatment attendance at two-month follow-up.
The most common goals were related to probation and treatment tasks, relationships, and cognitive reappraisals. Forty-five percent of probationers elected to receive electronic goal reminders at Session 1 with a slight increase at Session two (49%). Probationers who opted to receive electronic goal reminders at Session one selected significantly more goals on average (M = 4.4, SD = 2.1) than probationers who did not want reminders (M = 3.4, SD = 1.8), (t = 2.41, p = .019). Reminder selection and total number of goals selected predicted days of substance use and treatment attendance at a two-month follow-up. Probationers who opted not to receive electronic reminders and those who only chose to receive reminders at one visit had more days of substance use compared to those who chose to receive reminders at both visits, 1.66 and 2.31 times respectively. Probationers who chose not to receive electronic reminders attended 56% fewer days of treatment compared to those who chose to receive reminders at both visits.
People's choice of short-term goals and reminders can provide advance notification of the likelihood of substance use and treatment initiation. Probation systems might use such information to triage at-risk probationers to a higher level of service, before problems have emerged.