Court Text Messaging Alerts and Reminders

Full Article

Indiana Court Times on 4/1/2019 by Mary L. DePrez, Director and Counsel for Trial Court Technology, Office of Judicial Administration

Text messaging has become an important tool for judges who continue to look for ways to improve customer service and bring the courts into the 21st century.

Victim Safety

Trial courts began using text reminders in April 2011. At that time, the statewide Protection Order Registry, a Registry of all protection orders developed by the Indiana Supreme Court Trial Court Technology, was enhanced to allow victims of domestic violence to sign up for text reminders.

These reminders are sent at three critical times following the issuance of a protection or no-contact order: 1) when the order is granted, 2) when the order is served on the respondent by law enforcement, and 3) when a protection order is approaching its expiration date. Since that time, over 256,000 text messages have been successfully delivered to victims of domestic violence from the Protection Order Registry.

Victim advocates tout these text messages because victims indicate they are safer knowing when the protection order is served. One victim who filed a petition for a protection order planned to leave town for a week or two and stay with her sister until the order was served and the respondent had moved out of their residence.

Two days after she filed her petition, she received a text around 1:00 AM informing her that the order was served. She was thankful that she could return to her home sooner than she anticipated knowing that respondent had moved out.

Kerry Hyatt Bennett, Legal Counsel for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, explains the impact of these text messages to victims:

“When a survivor of abuse finally leaves that situation and dares to file a protection order asking for the court’s assistance to help them stay safe, they are risking a great deal. Statistics say this is the most dangerous time for them. In addition to navigating the ‘new normal’ of shelter, solo but safe parenting, and rebuilding sabotaged relationships and resources, they are literally looking over their shoulder in fear. When they receive that text or email in the middle of the night that indicates the other party has been put on notice—it is a tremendous relief for them. They know, with that one text, that they are believed-and courts will help them stay safe.”

Improving Appearance Rates

In May 2018, Trial Court Technology implemented text reminders in criminal cases for any court using the Odyssey case management system.

These text messages are a courtesy to defendants to remind them about their upcoming court date. This initiative is aimed at reducing the number of people who fail to appear in court, and in turn, the number of arrest warrants being issued.

Reminders are sent 5 days and 1 day in advance of the hearing. Today, 40 of the 70 counties and 3 city and town courts using Odyssey are participating in this initiative.

In less than a year, over 409,000 text reminders have been sent to 31,000 distinct cell phone numbers. Text reminders are optional and approximately 1,000 defendants have opted out of the service after receiving their first text message.

Although cell phone numbers are commonly collected by probation departments for their clients, they are not always available in the Odyssey system.

Judges and clerks are actively working to collect this information from defendants who want to receive text reminders. Of the courts participating, only 35% of the criminal cases have a cell number attached to the defendant. (This is up from 33% when the program started).

If the county is using this system, a defendant can appear in person at the clerk’s office with a photo ID to have their cell phone number added to their case or provide the information to the court at their next hearing.

Trial Court Technology will continue to discuss how text reminders could be expanded to assist litigants in other areas whether they have a case pending or are under court supervision.

Learn more about the text messaging reminder system, including which courts participate. For additional information on trial court technology please contact Mary DePrez at (317) 234-2604 or mary.deprez@courts.in.gov.