PROBLEMATIC BEHAVIOR OR ACTIVITY
Every court jurisdiction faces the agelong issue of missed court appearances. Defendants often have every intention of attending court but are simply disorganized or forgetful. Court-automated notification systems are evidence-based and associated with an increase in court appearance rates.
IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY
Missed court dates contribute to a large financial cost and substantial loss of staff time due to the additional work duties of issuing warrants, tracking down defendants, arresting, booking, and holding them in jail, and scheduling additional court dates before cases are resolved. Statistics also show that those arrested for missed court dates spend longer in jail than most other pretrial defendants. Missed court dates also result in costs for victims and witnesses.
Yamhill County instituted an automated court-notification system in 2015. Through contract services, a web-based technology company (Fieldware) provides Yamhill County with court-automated notification calls to all pretrial defendants with land lines or cell phones. Data files are automatically downloaded nightly from the court data system (Odyssey) and the vendor is given access to the defendant’s name, phone number, and court-date information. The system makes notification calls to defendants both six and two days prior to each court event, at the cost of $1.25 per successful call and 85 cents per unsuccessful call. Fieldware also provides statistics on the outcomes of calls. Phone messages to defendants are completely customizable and can be provided in English or Spanish as needed. The vendor’s technology also provides statistics on how messages are delivered (such as to the defendant directly, or via a third party or voice messaging system). For each unsuccessful call, the system makes up to five additional calls until a message is delivered successfully.
BASED ON RESEARCH
Evidence-based pretrial justice research indicates that court-automated notification calls significantly increase appearance rates. Please see the following resources for additional research:
Mitchel N. Herian and Brian H. Bornstein, September 2010, “Reducing Failure to Appear in Nebraska: A Field Study,” The Nebraska Lawyer, 13, no. 8: 11.
Matt Nice, Court Appearance Notification System: Process and Outcome Evaluation, A Report for the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council and the CANS Oversight Committee (Multnomah County: 2006, Report #002-06).
Wendy F. White “Court Hearing Call Notification Project,”: Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and Flagstaff Justice Court, Coconino County, AZ, 2006.
Jefferson County Criminal Justice Planning Unit, “Jefferson County, Colorado, Court Date Notification Program: Six Month Program Summary,” (Jefferson County, CO, 2006).
Tricia L. Crozier, The Court Hearing Reminder Project, “If You Call Them, They Will Come,” (King County, WA: Institute for Court Management, Court Executive Development Program, 2000).
Yamhill County was able to join a preexisting agreement between the vendor (Fieldware) and Multnomah County. This means that Yamhill County was able to secure an agreement for services at a much lower rate than would have otherwise been available to a county of its small size.
Without an ability to determine exact costs beforehand, Yamhill County Department of Community Justice (DCJ) budgeted $22,500 for the first year, from September 2015 through June 2016, and $30,000 for the 2016-17 fiscal year. So far, since initiating the program in September 2015, DCJ has spent only $5,000-$6,000 at an approximately cost of $550-$600 per monthly invoice. Yamhill County is using state Justice Reinvestment funds for its court-automated notification system.
Yamhill County Pretrial Court-Automated Notification System Outcomes, January-March 2016 (as reported to the Criminal Justice Commission JRP Third Quarter Report):
- Successful calls: 1,083
- Unsuccessful calls: 258
- Total calls:1,341
- Percentage of successful calls:81%
- Percentage of unsuccessful calls:19%
- Scheduled pretrial court appearances: 937
- Defendants who failed to appear in court (number): 26
- Defendants who failed to appear in court (rate): 2.7%
- Percentage of appearances when disposition occurred: 24.2%
CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS
Our court-automated notification system is completely dependent on accurate data entry and continual updating of defendants’ contact information (specific phone numbers) in Odyssey. Our court and judicial staff have prioritized the updating of these records for every court hearing and defendant contact.
Although court-automated notification can be applied to all types of court hearings (such as specialty court hearings, probation violation hearings, and bench probation status hearings), start with one main defendant population, such as pretrial, until your department can determine the call volume and cost. Services can also be expanded to include notification calls for work crews and community service, restitution payments, and supervision appointments. Current technology also offers a telephone reporting option for lower-risk correctional clients.