Automated text reminder program for court cases set to debut in Montgomery County

Designed, funded and operated by the Montgomery County Clerk of Courts, the program will be a win-win for citizens, the court system and the community.

Dayton – Nationwide, as many as half of the defendants do not show up for their scheduled court proceedings. More than 7,000 people missed their hearings last year in Montgomery County-operated courts. Montgomery County Clerk of Courts Mike Foley is implementing technology to address the problem a program that sends text messages to remind defendants about their upcoming court dates.

No-shows cost the courts time and money, and not appearing when scheduled also costs defendants their freedom. Missing a court date can spur a judge to issue a bench warrant, which can lead to a citation or arrest, fines and even jail time.

“An arrest warrant is a permanent record and can have a profoundly negative effect on someone for the long term,” Foley said. “Something as simple as a text message can help someone avoid arrest and detention merely by reminding them that they are due in court, and it saves taxpayers’ money.

“Automated texting to notify people when to show up to court will significantly improve the failure to appear (in court) rate and reduce warrants and pre-trial detainment,” Foley added. “This help the criminal justice operate more efficiently, and it also decreases the amount of money that the county spends on detaining people who have not been convicted.”

When Foley was elected Clerk of Courts last November and took office in January, he outlined a plan to upgrade technology, improve community relations and implement hands-on leadership in the community. The text message notification program is an example of how the Clerk of Courts office is bringing the courts to the community in an effort to improve Montgomery County as a whole.

Funded, designed and operated solely by the Clerk of Courts office, the program will soon undergo a test phase. Following the successful test phase, the program will expand system-wide, Foley said.

“It is a 21st century way of notifying people in a system that largely is still in the 20th century,” Foley said. “Other counties are doing this and have seen the rate of “shows” in court increase measurably.”

In New York City, a pilot program from March 2016 to June 2017 focused on messages that combined information on planning, what to expect and the consequences of not going to court resulted in a 26 percent decrease in the number of no-shows.

In Arizona, after court administrators launched a pilot program in 2018, text reminders for criminal court hearings helped drop the number of failure-to-appear warrants issued in Scottsdale Municipal Court by 51.9 percent over the first three months.

Text reminders are becoming more commonplace as a growing number of people use smart phones. There are reminders for everything from hair appointments and personal training sessions to doctor’s appointments and veterinary exams for pets. Reminding citizens of their court dates is a win-win for defendants, the court system and the community, Foley believes.

“Change is never easy, especially in a tradition-bound institution such as a courthouse,” Foley said. “Making the most of the latest technology provides solutions that were unimaginable just five or 10 years ago. Reminding citizens of their court dates is a win-win for defendants, the court system and the community.”