Every year tens of thousands of Colorado citizens miss important court dates, and then find themselves incarcerated because a simple failure to appear. Too often these people simply forgot about their date, which are often scheduled a month or more in advance. Studies from across the country and here in Colorado show that a simple text reminder is usually enough to get many more people to show up for court on time. That’s why I, along with Senator Cooke (R-Weld County), have proposed Senate Bill 36, which will automatically send a text reminder to defendents about their upcoming court dates.
When people fail to appear in court it negatively affects both the judicial court and the defendant. It backlogs our court system when a hearing is missed. And it further burdens our already overcrowded our county jails. Sheriffs, who bear the overwhelming financial burden of housing people incarcerated for failure to appear, want their jail beds reserved for individuals who pose a public safety threat, not people who just forgot their court date.
Failures to appear also have significant negative impacts on the defendant and their families. Jailings due to missed hearings harm defendants by causing unnecessary job losses, lost wages and family disruptions.
Doctors, hairstylists and dentists all know the value of text reminders, and I am confident our criminal justice system will benefit greatly from such a program. This inexpensive, simple program is an effective way to clear out jails who are merely holding people due to a missed court appearance. It also improves judicial efficiency.
Reforming our criminal justice system takes creativity and must address the entire timeline from a person’s point of entry to the point of release into the community.
—Pete Lee is the state senator for Colorado District 11 and the former representative for House District 18. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.