texting, text messages, text reminders
Text messages reminding people about upcoming court dates has led to lower failure-to-appear rates, according to a new study. Photo: Maëlick/Flickr

You may get texts reminding you about an upcoming dentist appointment or when your phone bill is due, but what about a reminder of when you have to appear in court?

 

New York City has been testing a program to use texts to remind defendants about their approaching court appearances, and the alerts have worked, according to a new study.

 

Receiving any sort of text message about an upcoming court date led to a 21 percent drop in the rate of those who failed to appear in court, according to a study out of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which partnered with New York City and behavioral economics firm ideas42 to test the digital “nudges.”

 

Over sixteen months, between March and June of 2017, those who provided their phone numbers on summons forms were randomly selected to receive texts encouraging their appearance in court.

 

The program tested out different kind of messages. Some texts emphasized the consequences of failing to appear (like that showing up would help them avoid an arrest warrant), some encouraged the defendant to plan in advance for their court appearance (for example: “You have court on Mon June 03 at One Centre Street Manhattan. What time should you leave to get there by 9:30 a.m.?”) and others emphasized that missing court would fall out of step with most people’s behaviors.

 

The most effective messages combined details on the consequences and information on how to make a plan to appear. These types of messages specifically cut failure-to-appear rates by 26 percent.

Now, thanks to these proven results, the Office of Court Administration will send text reminders to everyone who gives their cell phone number on a summons. That move is expected to prevent the issue of thousands of arrest warrants annually, experts said, and help out people who either forget about their court date or don’t realize the importance of appearing.

“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,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We’ve found that these gentle nudges help New Yorkers remember when and where their court appearance is and reduce failure-to-appear rates, and that progress is a great step toward a fairer justice system.”