In recent years there have been experiments with courts contacting people to remind them to come to court or to make their payment. A 2011 study in Nebraska using mailed postcard reminders (like my dentist uses) found that “(r)eminders significantly reduced FTA (failure to appear) overall”. There were additional findings concerning the “strength of reminder” and race that should be understood also.
Similarly, a Jefferson County, Colorado study found that Failure to Appeal compliance violations were increasingly becoming a problem. According to their study, in less than 10 years the percentage of inmates in their jail for compliance violations (such as FTA) rose from 8% to 33%. This was obviously a huge increase in cost for their taxpayers. As a result they conducted a study that used a live court staff caller to contact those persons scheduled for court appearance. The report noted that while other courts such as Multnomah County, Oregon (Portland) had used an automated caller system, Jefferson County decided to go with a live person for multiple reasons including the logistics and complexity of setting up an automated system for the test. The ultimate results were a 43% reduction in the Failure to Appear rate. And if the caller as able to directly talk with the defendant, the appearance rate rose from the overall (normal for court operations) non-contacted rate of 79% to approximately 92%.
Of course this being the Court Technology Bulletin we wanted to explore various automated approaches. Ms. Margaret Hagan’s Law Design Tech blog (via www.openlawlab.com ) highlighted two courts, the courts in the nation of Qatar and, the Magistrate’s Court in the State of Victoria in Australia that have set up cell / mobile telephone text (SMS) reminder systems.
The system in Qatar which is part of their Hukoomi e-Government program provides the option (opt-in) to receive cell phone text reminders through their well designed website. The website cautions, that the “SMS reminder service is free. The Supreme Judiciary Council bears no responsibility on any delayed or undeliverable messages.”
The State of Victoria Magistrate’s Court (which jurisdiction includes the Melbourne metropolitan area) created the “SMS Reminder Pilot” in their Criminal Diversion program:
“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.”Ecourtdate.com
So thinking that someone in the USA must have done something similar. I looked and found “Ecourtdate.com” and reached out to them for information. This is what they sent:
"Our system works by electronically notifying defendant of upcoming court appearances. We use email voice mail and text messaging to remind defendants of their upcoming court dates. At the start of a case, new defendants are entered into the system and when a court date is scheduled our system notifies them using all of the methods that the defendant signed up for.
We started brain storming and developing eCourtdate.com over three years ago in 2009. Since that time, the site has gone through numerous testing phases. We know how important it is that the site is reliable and works without fail. Missing a court date is potentially devastating. When a defendant misses court and is rearrested it often times affects their family as well. The defendant could miss out on the opportunity to work and provide for their family and could even lose their job. It also contributes to overcrowded jails and keeps officers busy serving warrants unnecessarily. In 2011, we officially launched the system to the public and have been extremely happy with the performance and reliability of the system.
Our current customers consist of bail bond companies who benefit greatly from using our system. Traditionally, bail bond offices have had to spend much time and effort notifying their clients of upcoming court dates and then spend additional time and resources if a court date is missed. Our system allows this time, energy, and resources to more efficiently used and better spent on other endeavors. We are always looking for ways to expand our reach and use the system in new ways. Clerk of Courts are our next potential user base as we feel that the benefits to larger organizations would be exponentially greater. Clerks use more postage and more “person hours” towards court date notification than anyone else, and those costs could be dramatically reduced if they adopted our system.
The impact of our system and the feedback we’ve received from our clients has been amazing. It’s been even better than any of us could have imagined. In the bail bond offices using our system, the rate of defendants failing to appear for court and bond forfeitures have been cut down dramatically. No longer are defendants missing court due to never having received their court date which saves bonding companies time and resources that can be better allocated to creating new business."For more information contact Ecourtdate at: email@example.com
Finally, I found these other online reminder services. However, I don’t know whether or not they have worked with courts before. So keep that in mind if you contact them.
Good luck, and please let us know here at the CTB if you already have a similar system or, if you test one in the near future.