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Courts around the country are embracing text messages as a way to nudge people into showing up for their hearings.

On any given day, up to half of defendants fail to show up for their scheduled proceedings. No-shows cost the courts time and money, and can cost defendants their freedom.

Public defenders and court administrators are using text reminders in more than a dozen states, including Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida and Washington.

Richmond Public Defender Tracy Paner said the reminders have been a huge help to her clients, who are often struggling with poverty and chaotic family lives, in addition to dealing with the fallout from an arrest. 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.

“If you’re hustling and you don’t know how you’re going to pay your rent and looking for a job and wondering where you are going to get food, kind of the last thing on your mind is your court date,” Paner said. “If we can help with that, that’s easy for us.”

In Richmond and Petersburg, the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission used a grant to set up a pilot program. The commission contracted with Uptrust, a San Francisco-based company whose software integrates with the public defender’s case management software to access the names, cellphone numbers, court dates and other information to track cases.

Uptrust’s software builds a schedule of reminders for each defendant and automatically sends texts on those dates. The messages are typically sent 10 days, one week and one day before a scheduled hearing.

Some texts also include customized messages reminding people to seek time off from work, arrange for child care and figure out how they will get to court.

One of the main goals is to reduce failure-to-appear rates.

In New York City, researchers who studied a pilot program found that from March 2016 to June 2017 text messages that combined information on planning, what to expect and the consequences of not going to court led to a 26 percent drop in the number of no-shows.

Text messages were initially used by some courts to remind people to report for jury duty, said Bill Raftery, a senior analyst with the National Center for State Courts.

After Michael Brown was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, a Justice Department investigation focused attention on the practice of issuing fines and other penalties for failing to appear in court, even for minor traffic charges.

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