Beyond Bail: Using Behavioral Science to Improve Timely Court Appearance
In 2014, nearly 40% of individuals issued a ticket for a violation in New York City did not show up to court, and were issued an arrest warrant as a result. Given this stiff penalty, it might seem that people would only miss court if they deliberately chose to do so. But a behavioral approach suggests other reasons why people might miss court: for example, they might have simply forgotten or engaged in “ostrich behavior.” If these behavioral bottlenecks, or others we have identified, account for some failures to appear (FTA), then it may be possible to reduce FTA without resorting to the usual strict penalties, and instead to use more humane, light-touch interventions. With our partners in New York City, our teams at the University of Chicago Crime Lab and ideas42 are testing whether various text message reminders can reduce FTA. We have designed several reminders, and we have been conducting a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to determine whether these messages can help, and which are most helpful. Over the course of approximately 24 months, up to 80,000 summons recipients will be randomized to one of eight treatment arms. We will use administrative court and police data to assess the efficacy of the messaging program in general and which message content in particular is most effective in reducing FTA.