The Hennepin County Public Defender Office and Uptrust Launch Innovative Court Reminder and Social Services Referral Text Message Service to Increase Community Safety and Reduce Pretrial Incarceration

MINNEAPOLIS, MN., Dec. 23, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office and Uptrust, the social justice technology startup dedicated to decarceration, have partnered to create an initiative that will increase safer policing and fewer jailed citizens. The partnership, developed in response to George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing social justice movement, includes the donation of a year’s worth of the startup’s unique and effective technology to the Public Defender’s Office. Using Uptrust’ technology, Hennepin County will be able to better reduce high pretrial incarceration numbers, specifically originated by defendants failing to appear for court and other legal appointments all because of the constraints of basic daily obligations and the lack of efficient reminders.

"When we’ve asked clients why they didn’t make it to court, the number one response was ‘I forgot the date and needed a reminder,” said Mary Moriarty, Hennepin County Chief Public Defender. “Our clients have a distrust of the court system resulting in a reluctance to provide their phone numbers. Uptrust solves this problem because the technology is housed within the Public Defender’s Office where clients feel more comfortable giving out their phone numbers and informing their attorneys should those numbers change.”

When a person charged with a crime misses a court appearance, an arrest warrant is issued. Warrant squads, a special unit within the police department, are tasked with apprehending the subjects of these warrants to bring them back to court. Proceeding on the assumption that a person who misses court is trying to evade the law — which most of the time is not merely the case -— warrant squad officers are often dressed in plain clothes to surprise their intended targets while executing warrants. This tactic can result in volatile encounters dangerous for both citizen and officer alike. Indeed, the assumption relied upon by warrant squads is wrong and the unpredictable encounters, unnecessary.

A 2019 report by the courts estimates that Failures to Appear cost Hennepin County approximately $5.1 million per year in incarceration costs alone. Local governments spend more than $9 billion on unnecessary pretrial incarceration, and an additional $1 billion issuing and enforcing bench warrants when individuals are not present for their court appearance. Beyond the expense, enforcing warrants takes valuable time away from the police that could be spent on crime prevention.

Uptrust, which is donating the partnership’s first year of service to the Hennepin County Public Defender Office, provides a solution to reduce the failure to appear rate. This service is provided as a better and safer option to the recent reminder service piloted by the Hennepin County court system, which showed a significant decrease in the failure to appear rate, but its shortcomings included failing to reach a majority of public defender clients due to missing or incorrect phone numbers. Uptrust’s technology is able to achieve higher rates of success because it sends personalized text messages to public defender clients from their assigned attorney, while also allowing public defender clients to securely communicate with their attorneys and relay important or personal information. Uptrust’s technology is currently being used by public defenders in over 100 offices in 30 states and the US Territory of Guam and the results have shown an approximate 50 percent reduction in the Failure to Appear rate in those jurisdictions, resulting in thousands of nights of jail avoided.

“We are excited to be working with the Hennepin County Public Defender, an organization that became a national leader in driving criminal justice reform under Mary Moriarty,” said Jacob Sills, co-founder and CEO of Uptrust. “Like many Americans we were shaken by the death of George Floyd this summer and confronted with the painful reality that systemic and structural racist systems still thrive in this country. Uptrust alone can’t solve these problems; however, we felt our tool – and the outcomes data that prove that more people should be released before their court date – could make a small dent, and support the incredible ongoing work of the Public Defender and the Hennepin County community.”

Uptrust is a criminal justice system-focused communication and engagement tool helping defendants arrive at court for their scheduled hearings and other mandatory appointments. By improving the relationship between the criminal justice system and defendants, Uptrust has proved to keep low-income defendants out of jail on bench warrants and technical violations, while also saving attorneys time and reducing the cost to the municipality or county. Uptrust currently is contracted with more than 100 public defender offices around the US reaching over 900,000 defendants. Uptrust is a public benefit corporation supported by the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, RFK Human Rights, Schmidt Futures and the Heising-Simons Foundation; it has offices in San Francisco, CA and Northampton, MA. To learn more about Uptrust, visit www.Uptrust.co.


Contact Data