Automated court appearance reminder system aimed to reduce jail population, enable more effective court processes
A new effort, kicked off in late June by Durham County’s Criminal Justice Center (CJRC) to reduce the number of defendants jailed on the minor charge of Failure to Appear is already showing promising results, thereby saving taxpayer’s money and enabling the county’s court process to run more efficiently.
The program, which pushes “reminder messages” to clients, addresses the primary reason for failure to appear—defendants not remembering scheduled court appearances. Defendants simply enroll in the program and receive automated reminders by phone, text or email of their upcoming court dates.
It was realized that 10% of the county jail occupants were being held because of failing to appear for court dates. Knowing that technology could help minimize missed court dates, CJRC Director, Gudrun Parmer worked with Clerk of Superior Court, Archie Smith, Public Defender, Lawrence Campbell, former Chief District Judge turned North Carolina Representative, Marcia Morey, and District Attorney, Roger Echols to brainstorm the innovation.
“The critical success factor is defendant participation and the majority of defendants are now using the system,” said Parmer. “We are expecting to see a measurable reduction in defendants jailed on failure to appear charges, thereby saving money in court and jail operations.”
CJRC Gang Reduction Strategy Manager, James Stuit and Quality Assurance & Data Integrity Manager, Beth Steenberg worked closely with the Durham County Information Services & Technology (IS&T) department to design the application.
Mickey Mazarick, Senior Applications Analyst said, “We were able to produce CJRC an application at no cost, allowing funds awarded by the MacArthur Foundation to be used to pay the annual service fees and for marketing the application to the citizens of Durham County.”
Not only was the application developed in house, but through a partnership with Durham Youth Employed and Succeeding (YES), a comprehensive youth services program under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) legislation. The goal of Durham YES is to better prepare young adults, ages 16-24, for education and employment. Durham YES paid for the first six months of contracted services of Junior Developer, Andrew Liriano. Under Mazarick’s guidance, Liriano used his programming skills to deliver a product that county citizens and the court system can depend on.
The court reminder application has garnered deserved attention across the state the of North Carolina. Durham County is working with the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (NCAOC) and preparation has started for a planned roll out state-wide. Additionally, to better serve Durham’s thriving Hispanic community, Spanish will soon be added to the language options.
How does it work?
Citizens can visit http://courtreminders.dconc.gov from a computer or smartphone and search by name, DOB, and case number. After locating the case, reminders can be signed up through an automated phone call, text message, and Email. Three days before the scheduled court appearance and the day before, a reminder is sent by the selected method(s).
About the Durham County Criminal Justice Resource Center
The Criminal Justice Resource Center has a track record of successfully implementing system-improvement services and will serve as the lead agency for the project. With committed criminal justice partners, the CJRC has embarked on numerous efforts to reduce over-incarceration in the local jail and improve the lives of citizens in the local justice system. Durham County recently enhanced its mental health services in the detention facility, implemented a Misdemeanor Diversion Program that serves young individuals ages 16-21 and is continuing to identify opportunities to improve court processes.
About the MacArthur Foundation
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing financial capital for the social sector. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsible and responsive democracy, as well as the strength and vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago. More information about the Foundation’s criminal justice reform work can be found at www.macfound.org/criminaljustice
About Durham YES
Durham YES, Youth Employed and Succeeding, is a comprehensive youth services program under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) legislation. The goal of Durham YES is to better prepare young adults, ages 16-24, for education and employment. The services of Durham YES are designed with you in mind: your needs; your goals; your educational and career ambitions. Our counselors work with you individually and in group settings to better understand your current academic and occupational skill levels and, how together, we can help you realize your dreams. https://durhamnc.gov/576/Youth