"Failure-to-appear (FTA) is a significant problem in the nation’s courts. This paper examines the effectiveness of using different kinds of written reminders to reduce misdemeanants’ FTA rates. Misdemeanants (n = 7865) in 14 Nebraska counties were randomly assigned to one of four conditions prior to their court date: no reminder (control), reminder-only, reminder with information on the negative consequences of FTA (reminder-sanctions), or reminder with information on sanctions as well as the procedural justice benefits of appearing (reminder-combined). A subset of defendants (n = 452) was also surveyed after their scheduled court date to assess their perceptions of procedural fairness (both in general and regarding participants’ specific court experience) and their level of trust/confidence in the courts.
Reminders significantly reduced FTA overall, and more substantive reminders were significantly more effective than a simple reminder. Specifically, the FTA rate was 12.6% in the control condition, 10.9% in the reminder-only condition, 8.3% in the reminder-sanctions condition, and 9.8% in the reminder-combined condition. The FTA rate was higher for some categories of misdemeanors than others, and for defendants with multiple charges (15.4% if two or more charges, versus 5.4% for one charge). The baseline FTA rate was higher for Blacks (18.7%) than for Whites (11.7%) and Hispanics (10.5%), but this difference was not statistically significant when controlling for other factors such as number of offenses and type of offense.
Survey results indicated that misdemeanants’ trust/confidence assessments, as well as their perceptions of procedural justice, were related to their appearance in court. Defendants who appeared in court had higher institutional confidence and felt they had been treated more fairly by the criminal justice system (means = 3.23 and 3.52, respectively, on a 5-point scale) than nonappearers (means = 3.02 and 3.23, respectively). Institutional confidence and procedural justice were themselves highly correlated. Defendants with low trust in the courts were less likely to appear than those with higher trust when there was no reminder, but this relationship was not statistically significant when there was a reminder.
The study has important implications for public policy and pretrial services, such as improving system efficiencies and increasing criminal defendants’ perceptions of procedural justice. We recommend that courts, especially in larger jurisdictions, adopt a reminder program for defendants and engage in outreach to increase offenders’ trust/confidence."