Electronic Goal Reminders and Subsequent Substance Use and Treatment Initiation in Probationers




Spohr, Stephanie A.
Walters, Scott
Taxman, Faye


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Objective: The opportunities to influence behavior through the use of electronic goal reminders have 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. Methods: 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 days of substance use and days of treatment attendance at two months. Results: The most common goals were related to treatment, probation, relationships, and reappraisal. Forty-five percent of probationers elected to receive electronic goal reminders at Visit 1 with a slight increase at Visit 2 (49%). Probationers who opted to receive electronic goal reminders at Visit 1 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 significantly predicted days of substance use and treatment attendance at two month follow-up. Probationers who opted not to receive electronic reminders and those who only selected to receive reminders at one visit had more days of substance use compared to those who received 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 received reminders at both visits. Conclusions: 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 probationers to a higher level of service, before problems have emerged.