After a pilot testing which messages work best, the city reports it has cut failure-to-appear rates by 26 percent.
New York City has found that a simple text message can have sizable impact at reducing court warrants.
On Wednesday the city reported that a text notification program coordinated by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the Office of Court Administration and the New York Police Department has lowered the number of failure-to-appear warrants by 26 percent. The city says the text reminders are part of its ongoing push to decrease incarceration rates and relieve financial hardship for low-level offenders.
"We’ve identified two simple, inexpensive strategies that all cities could use to help more people undertake the necessary steps to successfully appear in court," said Alissa Fishbane, managing director at Ideas42, a nonprofit involved with the project. "As a result, New York City will issue tens of thousands fewer failure-to-appear warrants each year, which highlights how solutions based on behavioral science insights can effectively complement existing policies.”
In a statement, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the "gentle nudges" that come to residents who receive a court summons and provide their cell numbers were designed to create a fairer justice system that prevents small offenses from boiling over into serious arrests or jail time.
“Little reminders can make a big difference, and these text messages will help people avoid a missed court appearance — and a warrant that could eventually lead to spending a night in jail," de Blasio said.
The pilot project lasted between March 2016 and June 2017 and was led by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and nonprofit design firm Ideas42. Organizers randomly selected residents who had court dates to receive text messages with different types of reminders. The city found that the text messages that were most effective stressed the punishments for not showing up, what residents should expect in court and planning suggestions.
The texts, combined with a redesigned summons form, are expected to lower failure-to-appear rates by 36 percent. In 2016, roughly 40 percent of those who received summons failed to appear in court, or about 107,000 warrants each year.