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Failure to appear (FTA) rates in the U.S. can be as high as 25-30% depending on jurisdiction and type of offense. These failures to appear are costly for the criminal justice system as they can lead to inefficient use of time and resources, and FTA can also be costly for defendants by leading to additional court dates, enhanced penalties, and even collateral consequences such as suddenly missing work while detained on the FTA charge (even though the original offense did not result in a detention). What’s more, minorities are more likely to fail to appear than Whites, raising a race justice situation. Might it be possible to reduce FTA via a simple intervention?
This article presents the results of an experimental field study that tested the effectiveness of a pilot court reminder program for defendants in 14 of Nebraska’s County Courts. From March 2009, to May 2010, researchers at the University of Nebraska Public Policy randomly sent misdemeanants one of three different postcard reminders or provided no reminder. We were interested in measuring the effectiveness of the three different types of court date reminder postcards at reducing FTA rates for defendants. We also measured whether the court date reminders differentially impacted Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites. Finally, we surveyed a portion of defendants to determine whether perceptions of procedural justice and trust in the courts were different for those who appeared for court and those who did not.