Court Date Reminders Are Common Sense Way to Reduce Failure to Appear Arrests

Augusta – Gov. Janet Mills today signed a bill into law aimed at significantly reducing the number of people held in Maine jails awaiting trial. LD 1516 will establish a text message-based court date reminder system, similar to what many doctor’s and dentist’s offices use to remind people of their appointments. 

More than 20 percent of all pretrial detainees in Maine are in jail because of failure to appear (FTA) for a court date. Data obtained by the ACLU from seven Maine jails showed FTA was among the top five booking offenses at six of them in 2017. At four of those jails FTA was among the top three booking offenses, and at one of them it was the top booking offense.

Studies show court date reminders, which have been implemented across the country, are a successful and cost-effective way to reduce FTA. These notifications have also been shown to be more effective in reducing the number of defendants who fail to appear for court than the use of cash bail.

The ACLU said the cost of the program will quickly be recouped by the savings in resources previously required to issue and execute FTA warrants, plus the cost of holding people in jail who don’t need to be there.

The following can be attributed to Oamshri Amarasingham, advocacy director at the ACLU of Maine:

“Most people don’t miss court dates on purpose – they miss them because their lives are hectic and they simply forget. Court date reminders are a win-win solution to the problem of failure to appear. They are efficient, they save the state time and resources, and they are aimed at helping people meet their obligations instead of punishing them. Keeping people out of jail who don’t need to be there is good for all of us.”