Los Angeles County plans to use text messages to try to ensure court appearances by those out on bail as part of a one-year pilot program approved by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recommended the low-cost solution in an attempt to raise appearance rates at court hearings and other mandatory appointments.
Ridley-Thomas said he expects it will also prevent technical violations that typically prompt bench warrants and often land violators in jail.
“We must take advantage of the readily available, cost effective, emerging technologies to help reduce failures to appear and, at the same time, continue doing all that we can to keep individuals safe during this crisis,” Ridley-Thomas said.
“This is an important long-term goal in criminal justice reform and promoting alternatives to incarceration, and increasingly important given the pandemic and high volume of upcoming court dates.”
The move comes as more than 5,000 individuals have been released from county jails in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Many of those individuals had been jailed awaiting trial and are now responsible for a series of court appearances.
While most hearings have been postponed during a series of court closures, the suspension of jury trials and efforts to focus resources on only the most critical matters, some court dates for recently released individuals are scheduled as early as June.
Making sure they show up for court is important in avoiding re-arrests and a consequent spike in the jail population.
The use of similar technology relying on text message reminders contributed to a 36% decrease in the failure to appear rate in New York City, according to proponents.
Los Angeles County authorities expect the cost savings related to preventing such failures to be significant.
“The approved pilot is a proven tool to get public defender and alternate public defender clients back to court on time,” said Los Angeles County Public Defender Ricardo Garcia.
“Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ and the Board of Supervisors’ prospective thinking will help reduce `failure to appear’ warrants, decrease the number of arrests and prevent re-filling the jails with our indigent clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.”