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Around the country, courts are focused on improving appearance rates—to move cases forward efficiently, reduce warrants for nonappearance, and increase access to justice. To help courts discover and adopt effective approaches, the (Un)warranted team at ideas42 has crafted this four-part email series breaking down leading research-based practices informed by behavioral science.

 

Read our previous installment on behaviorally designed court forms.

Court Date Reminders

Court date reminders are becoming a go-to tool for many courts, and for good reason: the more rigorous evaluations have found that reminders reduce nonappearance by 20-40%. Just like the reminders we’ve come to expect from our doctors, dentists, and hair salons, court reminders (sent via text message, email, phone call, or mail) work by making the court date details and consequences for nonappearance clear and top of mind.

Behaviorally informed reminders may take a small upfront investment, yet can quickly pay off with relatively low per-reminder costs once the system is up and running. You may also find that your state already has a reminder system that your court can adopt, that your existing case management system (CMS) already offers a reminder component, and/or that grants can help cover the start-up costs.

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Standout Examples from the Field

  • In New York City, text message reminders sent seven, three, and one day prior to the court date decreased nonappearances on summonses by 26%, and were doubly effective among court users living in neighborhoods with the least wealth. The most effective messages prompted people to make a plan to return to court, emphasized the consequences of not appearing, and gave people an idea of what to expect at court.

 

  • In Santa Clara County, CA, text message reminders reduced warrants for nonappearance by about 20%—and led to a corresponding reduction in jail stays. Recipients were also reminded seven, three, and one day prior to the hearing, and were prompted to confirm that they planned to attend court.

 

  • Hennepin County, MN, saw bench warrants for nonappearance fall by 25% when they began using a combination of text message, email, and call reminders, with estimated savings of at least $2 million annually in jail stays, rescheduled hearings, and lost wages.

Top Tips for Effective Court Reminders

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Choose your channel

There’s no one “best” way to send a reminder. Ideally, use multiple channels to allow your court users to choose the type of reminder that works best for them.

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Prioritize collecting quality contact info

Notifications are only as good as your court user contact information. If you’re already collecting contact info, fantastic. If not, figure out how you will collect and update contact info as a first step in setting up your reminder system.

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Auto-enroll for the biggest impact

Save your court users multiple steps and reach more people by automatically enrolling them in reminders. Those who don’t want reminders can opt out (research shows only about 2% of people decline reminders).

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Don’t forget missed court notifications

If your friend didn’t show up to a lunch date, wouldn’t you reach out to find out what happened? By the same token, sending a notification, especially an instant one like a text message, right after a missed court date can alert folks who may have forgotten, and lets everyone know how to avert a warrant by getting in touch with the court. If you’re already sending reminders, take advantage of this savvy add-on!

Ready to dive in with court date reminders?

Check out the National Guide to Improving Court Appearance for more in-depth guidance and examples of successful court date notifications. And reach out to our team at unwarranted@ideas42.org if you’d like to chat about crafting actionable notifications for your court users!

Coming next month: Grace periods—a simple way to reduce warrants for nonappearance.

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