Back- ground

We have begun to collect together reports, studies, articles & other research on how courts may reduce the rate of people failing to appear at their court hearings through reminder systems.

Here are the resources we have found. Please send us other resources that you know of, through the comment box below or through email.



Resources

Though not many US courts have deployed SMS messaging systems to communicate with their litigants, staff, or attorneys, there have been several similar tech-based initiatives to use reminders to improve appear rates at court dates. Most initiatives have relied on either real-person phone calls or auto-recording phone calls, made to the litigant’s number, reminding her of her court date information.

Court Messaging Project - research - increasing court appearance rates with telephone reminders
“Increasing Court-Appearance Rates and Other Benefits of Live-Caller Telephone Court-Date Reminders” documents a telephone-call reminder system in Jefferson County, Colorado. It was intended to remind people accused of crimes to appear at court, and reduce the Failure to Appear. It was judged successful, and the pilot was expanded to the “Court Date Notification Program” within the county’s sheriff’s office.
Court Messaging Project - research - If you call they will come
“Reducing Courts’ Failure to Appear Rate: A Procedural Justice Approach” provides an extensive, quantitative research study of a program in Nebraska to reduce criminal misdemeanants’ Failure to Appear (FTA) rate through a reminder system. It sent out reminders of court dates through the postal mail. It found that the FTA rate did drop, and at the same time, the reminder system increased the defendants’ sense of procedural justice & confidence in the court as an institution.


Court Messaging Project - research - Minnesota Court Reminder PRoject

The Minnesota Judicial Branch’s Court Reminder Project write-up profiles a 2008 initiative to call juveniles and their parents the day before a juvenile was scheduled to appear in court, to remind them of the appointment. The report studies how this pilot affected the rate of appearance at arraignment hearings. The study found these calls made for more productive hearings, less cancelled appearances, and a higher likelihood that parents would appear alongside the juveniles.

Court Messaging Project - research - Colorado King County
“The Court Hearing Reminder Project, ‘If You call them, they will come'” reports on a King County, Colorado messaging system. The project enlisted volunteers to call the defendant just before his scheduled appearance date. The project was deemed successful, in that it reduced the Failure to Appear rate despite an increase in caseload, and that it was adopted by several neighboring jurisdictions.


Other Programs

Courts in countries outside the US have implemented some text-based reminder systems. We’ve tried to find as many examples as possible & these are the ones we’ve found online documentation for.

If you know of other pilot programs or fully developed court text message projects, please point us towards them. We’ll include them here as a resource to draw from in designing pilots for California courts.

Court Hearing SMS - Qatar
The Qatari government’s Supreme Judiciary Council has one such program live, at Court Hearing SMS Reminder – Hukoomi – Qatar E-government. Any litigant can register online & in three steps, the Court will let them “receive text message reminders on selected court hearing dates and times.”
The steps the citizen needs to follow:

  1. Sign Up Online
  2. Enter ID number
  3. Enter mobile phone number
  4. Click the registration button

Qatar’s SMS reminder service is free and apparently beyond just a pilot stage.



Court Hearing SMS - Australia
Australia also has an SMS Reminder system, in Pilot phase. The Magistrates’ Court of Victoria runs the pilot in the Criminal Diversion Program. There is no way to register for the system online — like Qatar allows.
The Australian Court provides these details on its pilot:
“In order to increase compliance with Criminal Diversion Plans, an SMS Reminder Pilot has been established statewide and administered from the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. Offenders who have not finalised their Criminal Diversion Plans within a month or a week of their stated completion date, will receive reminders via SMS to do so.
The aim of the pilot is to increase compliance of offenders, reduce paper usage by the court, and in doing so, reduce the cost of administering the Criminal Diversion Program. The SMS Reminder Pilot commenced on Monday 2 July 2012 and has so far indicated a strong early result with respect to the aims of the pilot.”


Court Messaging Project - Brooklyn Justice Initiative
Brooklyn Justice Initiatives from the Center for Court Innovation offers text & voice mail reminders to misdemeanor defendants in Kings County, New Jersey. This service goes beyond appointment reminders & includes messages about community-based services and support. Their description of the program:
“Participants are recruited from the pool of non-felony defendants in Kings County who have bail set at arraignment and are unable to pay. Upon referral to Brooklyn Justice Initiatives, each participant undergoes a screening process. Following the initial intake meeting, participants begin a schedule of regular in-person check-ins until their case is disposed.

“Brooklyn Justice Initiatives promotes compliance with release conditions through an automated appointment reminder system that sends customized messages to participants via text message and voicemail. Consistent with procedural justice research, staff craft all notification messages to include language that is easy to understand and respectful. Participants without reliable access to a cell phone will be issued a low-cost, pre-paid device for the sole purpose of corresponding with program staff.”