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University of Nebraska Public Policy Center

Reducing Courts’ Failure-to-Appear Rate: A Procedural Justice Approach

This was an evaluation of a pilot project aimed at reducing failure to appear in court for a defendant’s misdemeanor hearing. The rate at which criminal defendants fail to appear in court is as high as 25-30%, depending on the jurisdiction and type of offense. Failure to appear increases workloads and expenditures for the courts and law enforcement and can also lead to increased penalties, including pre- or post-trial incarceration and increased fines for what started out as a minor offense. Significantly, failure to appear disproportionately impacts racial and ethnic minorities.

Some jurisdictions have reduced failures to appear by using reminders to defendants to appear in court. Reminder programs, however, have not been systematically evaluated or studied based on social scientific theory and methodology. This project piloted several types of reminder interventions in several of Nebraska’s counties to evaluate which is the most effective. Reducing failure-to-appear rates will result in considerable system efficiencies and cost savings. Moreover, reducing failure-to-appear rates in racial and ethnic minority groups can play a small yet important role in reducing the overrepresentation of minorities in the corrections system.

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