Editorial: Court reminder phone calls are a good idea

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

Lawrence Municipal Court should be commended for taking steps to reduce failure-to-appear warrants.

The average failure-to-appear rate in 2018 is 40 percent for misdemeanor criminal arraignments. That’s up from an average rate of 35 percent in 2017 and 31 percent in 2016.

In an effort to address the increase, Municipal Court Judge Scott Miller came up with a simple solution — he directed court clerks to start calling defendants a few days in advance of their court dates to remind them.

Clerks will call far enough in advance so that people who forgot have time to adjust work schedules or plan for other arrangements. Miller said having clerks call in person will allow defendants to ask questions and maybe even get a date moved if needed, which clerks may be able to do in certain types of cases.

Miller said the pilot plan would be tested and measured to see if it helps reduce the failure-to-appear rates. He said clerks should begin making calls in the coming month, and that they’ll probably start with calling defendants on the dockets with the highest failure-to-appear rates.

Existing staff will absorb the extra work, so there’s no additional cost.

Some might argue that such phone calls shouldn’t be necessary; that defendants should take responsibility for knowing their court times and dates and showing up. Although there is truth to that, reminder phone calls require far fewer resources than issuing failure-to-appear warrants for municipal court misdemeanors. Lowering the failure-to-appear rate could even reduce the Douglas County Jail population slightly.

In Douglas County District Court, the clerk’s office doesn’t have a notification system for out-of-custody defendants. Clerk of the District Court Douglas Hamilton said his office discussed using its automated juror notification system to send hearing reminders to defendants, but the idea was dropped because of technical issues.

But if the municipal court clerks can show success with their notification program, it’s certainly something the district court should reconsider. The goal should be to keep people out of the court system as much as possible. Something as simple as courtesy reminders to defendants ahead of their court dates could be an efficient way to do that.


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