By now, you’ve likely heard there are too many people in the Ada County Jail. We are pretty much close to being full every day – and a decent number of those inmates are incarcerated because they’ve missed court dates and keep getting new charges.
We really want them to avoid that phenomenon, so we are going to try something new. We’re going to text people to remind them to show up for court – if they want our help.
The crime charged most often in Ada County is failure to appear (FTA). By a lot. FTAs comprised over 18% of all jail bookings in 2017. The next highest jail booking charge was possession of a controlled substance, which made up almost 10% of all booked arrests.
We surveyed people charged with FTA last year and found that 50% said they just didn’t know or forgot about their scheduled court date; 24% cited transportation issues; 8% said they had work or childcare conflicts.
Thanks to our partnership with the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, we now have a text-based notification system in place that will let people know when their court dates are happening.
All people have to do is sign up at https://adacounty.id.gov/MyCourtDateThey will get a text notification a week before their hearing is scheduled and a second text the day before. (Anyone who has been to the dentist lately will be familiar with the process.)
Here’s what a notification looks like:
If someone has more than one court case happening, they must submit a different form for each case to get all the notifications. Also, the new system is only set up for criminal cases, so you can’t get text notifications for civil court appearances.
This is a totally “opt-in” voluntary system – people aren’t required to sign up. But they should. Those FTAs can really pile up and make it harder for people to get out of the churn of jail and court all the time.
One thing we have to make crystal clear is that failure to get the reminder does not excuse anyone from missing a court date. This is an extra tool to help them remember to show up. Getting to court, on time, is totally the responsibility of whoever is charged.
What we do want to do is make it as easy as possible for people to sign up. So we’ll give sign-up forms to everyone who posts bond and leaves the jail. We have the online sign-up option available. It’s free. And it should help a lot of people avoid FTA charges piling up.
(People who want to sign up that don’t have their case number can look it up on https://mycourts.idaho.gov).
After years of working on a plan to reduce Ada County’s Jail population by 15%-to-19%, we are thrilled to finally be able to put our plan in action — thanks to the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge.
The Foundation has awarded Ada County $1 million to help us realize our vision — and the text notification system is only one of several programs and strategies we’ll be telling you about over the next year.
We’ve added people in key parts of the court system to try to identify people who are in jail who shouldn’t be – and find ways to get those cases wrapped up.
We are working towards expanding our pretrial programs to create options outside of the traditional cash-based bond system.
We are also working on reducing current disparities for Native and African American inmates in our jail.
That’s just some of what we are working on. There is a lot more story to tell, so stay tuned.