Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $1,000,000)
A persistent problem facing pretrial justice systems nationwide are failures to appear for scheduled court hearings. Failures to appear trigger a resource-intensive process and contribute to higher court costs, longer case processing times, increased fees, and severe sanctions that can lead to long term consequences and poor community safety outcomes. The negative results of failures to appear often disproportionately impact racial minorities and can compound existing disparities. The field’s understanding of this issue is expanding, but there are still many gaps in research and best practice. As a result, current interventions have limited impact on failures to appear and can exacerbate the collateral consequences.
The Crime and Justice Institute (CJI), in partnership with National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies, Michael Wilson Consulting, and Tarrant County, Texas, proposes to address the problem by creating an innovative, comprehensive program designed with input from the community and impacted people to increase court appearance rates, reinvest costs, mitigate consequences to individuals and communities, and reduce racial disparities. The project aims to accomplish three objectives listed in the FY2022 Field Initiated: Encouraging Innovation RFP:
Objective 1: Accelerate justice and enhance capacity of criminal justice leaders to reduce rates of incarceration and racial disparities (50% of budget)
Objective 2: Improve relationships between communities and the criminal justice system by building trust and confidence, increasing access to justice, and improving fairness across the justice system (25% of budget)
Objective 3: Institutionalize innovative and effective practices implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic (25% of budget)
The program will build on known best practices and promising strategies that have been individually evaluated in some capacity, but that have not been tested for impact in combination. Specifically, the program will include four components: 1) automated court reminders; 2) services such as assistance with transportation, scheduling, and navigating the system; 3) notifications with next steps after missed court dates; and 4) amnesty periods with virtual court hours to resolve nonappearances before a warrant is issued or a new charge is filed.
To create the program and meet the objectives, the project activities include program design, training and education for stakeholders and staff, community outreach, program implementation, performance measurement and data collection, program assessment and fiscal impact analysis, and planning for sustainability and replication. The model will be implemented in Tarrant County, and anyone released on pretrial supervision will be eligible. Program and assessment materials will be published for replication.