By Vanguard Staff
LOS ANGELES, CA — A new program that will provide those in Los Angeles accused of a crime with a free court date notification to remind them when they need to be in court has been announced by The Fund for Guaranteed Income (F4GI), in partnership with the JusticeLA coalition.
“Courtreminders.org allows anyone to sign up for free text message reminders, which are sent one week, three days, and one day before the court hearing…in English or Spanish automatically updated if their court date changes,” according to the groups.
They also note that if a phone number is “lost or disconnected, users can include a phone number for a friend or chosen family member. The tool offers a FAQ to help those appearing in court understand the court process. This service does NOT communicate with LA County courts or any government entity. Your data will NOT be sold to any third party.”
The program is designed to reduce the number of Failures to Appear (FTA), “which can carry steep penalties and even land someone in jail for months while they await trial,” according to the groups.
Pretrial detainees account for nearly half (48 percent) of all people in the LA County jail system, the largest jail system in the world which leads the country in jail admissions (128,531 jail admissions in 2017 in LA, compared to 47,599 in Chicago and 58,226 in New York). Up to 80 percent of these arrests are for low-level crimes.
“F4GI’s tool builds upon models that have been proven to be effective in jurisdictions around the country. F4GI’s tool aims to reduce the damage that FTAs have on the communities that already disproportionately bear the burden of incarceration, and reduce the number of people held in jail before their trial due to uncertainty around court appearances,” said the statement issued by the groups.
Nick Salazar, Chief Operating Officer at F4GI, said, “Hearings are usually scheduled at 8:30 a.m. and being even a few minutes late can result in a warrant being issued for someone’s arrest. When daily traffic makes travel hard to estimate and at a time when public transit is facing a driver shortage, running late is almost unavoidable.
“Court dates can be rescheduled or postponed for months – and updates are sent by physical mail – so someone can have a warrant issued for their arrest without even knowing they had a court date in the first place. Courtreminders.org will help ensure that running five minutes late to court won’t cost someone their livelihood.”
And, Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson, Executive Director of the Dignity and Power Now, noted, “Failures to appear in court have historically resulted in millions of dollars a year spent on arresting people who are legally innocent and fed what remains to be the local largest jail system in the world.”
He added, “Black and Brown houseless people – and women in particular – have borne the brunt of the county’s failure to provide these basic services to people who are legally innocent despite the commitments outlined in the Care First, Jails Last vision of the Alternatives to Incarceration department. This tool is a community driven solution to a long-standing problem that is reliable, effective, and long overdue.”
Courtreminders.org was built, they said, with input from community members and advocates. F4GI provides these reminders free of charge, and standard rates for sending and receiving text messages still apply.