The Dallas County Public Defender's Office and Uptrust, the social justice communication platform, have announced a new partnership to employ Uptrust's two-way communication technology to help defendants make it to court.
Uptrust's platform will reduce the number of Failure to Appear incidents, arrest warrants, and technical violations in the county.
The goal of implementing the platform is to lower jail populations and save taxpayer dollars.
The platform also allows Dallas-area Police to focus efforts on crime prevention instead of seeking out those who have failed to appear in court.
"On any given night, too many people are being kept in Dallas County Jail for non-criminal acts like technical probation violations, missed court dates or non-violent minor offenses and simply cannot afford to post a monetary bail even though they have not been convicted of a crime," Lynn Pride Richardson, Dallas County Public Defender, said. "Allowing clients to message with their attorney before their hearing will allow for fewer incarcerations in the short and long-term."
The Uptrust platform sends personalized text messages to each public defender client from their assigned public defender. The messages remind clients of court hearing dates and other legal appointments, meetings with their attorney, and to take time off work in anticipation of their court date.
In the coming months, Uptrust will roll-out features in Dallas that allow attorneys and social workers to refer their clients to local social services like housing and employment assistance, which will eliminate nights in jail and generate cost savings.
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The new reminder program comes as COVID-19 quarantine and social distancing measures continue to take effect.
Many criminal cases have been adjourned due to the courts being closed during the pandemic, and individuals with pending cases may not know when their case will next be heard in court.
Uptrust and the Dallas County Public Defender Office are seeking to notify their clients of their next court appearance as well as the safety precautions that have been put into place.
Uptrust's messaging system has reduced Failure to Appear occurrences by more than 50%, with 30% of users texting back to their attorney, continuing the correspondence. The platform provides a communication and reminder tool tailored to the needs of low-income defendants.
Dallas County is Uptrust's second partnership in Texas, with two more set to launch in the next month.
Uptrust currently works with over 150 public defender offices in 26 states across the country and the US Territory of Guam.
Local governments spend more than $9 billion on unnecessary pretrial incarceration, and an additional $1 billion issuing and enforcing bench warrants when individuals do not appear for their court appearance.
"Dallas County recognizes that more needs to be done to assist more individuals awaiting their trial. Too many people are sitting in jail, who should not be there," Jacob Sills, founder of Uptrust, said. "Our partnership with the public defender will keep thousands of lives and families intact and save millions of dollars - a true win-win."