CJCC Collaborative Project Improves Court Appearance Rates
Monday, February 9, 2015
A collaborative project between Lafayette’s criminal justice agencies has resulted in improved criminal court appearance rates. Through the parish’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC), criminal justice agencies work together to grasp issues and challenges within the criminal justice system and seek to solve them collaboratively. An early project which is now bearing fruit is a reminder phone call process to alert defendants to their upcoming court appearance.
Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office Information Officers call defendants approximately 1 week before their pretrial criminal court appearance at the 15th Judicial District Court as a reminder to appear in court. Officers provide the defendant with basic information on the defendant’s upcoming criminal court appearance and answer questions regarding the court appearance. This project started in September 2014 and is now entering its sixth month. “In this proactive process we have actually reduced the number of phone calls we would have normally received about parking, court rules about cell phones, and court house location. We are also minimizing the number of warrants issued creating less bookings within the jail,” stated Director Rob Reardon with the LPSO.
This past summer, the 15th Judicial District Public Defender’s Office shared information with CJCC that showed high failure to appear rates during arraignment. Arraignment hearing during April, May and June 2014 had an average 56% appearance rate. This meant that 44% of defendants were not showing up for their court appearance. This lack of appearance can slow down the entire criminal justice process.
Once the problem was identified, criminal justice agencies including the 15th Judicial District Courts, Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court, and Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office met to determine solutions. Looking across the country, many criminal justice systems were beginning to use reminder phone calls as a way to boost court appearance rates. “This is similar to getting a call from your doctor reminder you of an upcoming appointment,” said Dr. Holly Howat, Executive Director of Lafayette Parish CJCC, “Some places have an automated call system and others have a live caller. We chose a live caller process to be housed in the Sheriff’s Office.”
Since the reminder program started, court appearance rates improved substantially. Data from September and October 2014 indicates that all criminal court appearance rates increased from 48% to 62%. This 14% increase in court appearance rates was a low-cost solution to the high failure to appear rates. LPSO assigned current personnel to the task and an existing phone line. The benefits, however, are potentially large. Increased criminal court appearances result in fewer warrants being issued and adjudicated. This leads to fewer manpower hours being spent on missed court appearances and the resulting warrants. “Our criminal court system requires defendants to appear in court and as their legal representatives, we want them there. As a member of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee we were not surprised that a reminder call will help increase turnout and reduce the cost of arrest for people who forget about court,” said Paul Marx, Chief Public Defender for 15th Judicial District’s Public Defender Office.
The CJCC is not resting on this issue of court appearance just yet though. Changes have also been made to subpoena language to make it easier to understand where and when to go to court. Information on the consequences for not appearing are now included in the subpoena as well. The consequences are a warrant being issued by the judge and additional fines and fees. “All the criminal justice agencies want our system to promote public safety and justice. Providing defendants with clear information and a friendly reminder to come to court helps the entire criminal justice system run smoothly,” said Howat.
The Lafayette Parish CJCC works jointly and proactively on criminal justice issues. The principal mission of the CJCC is to study the Lafayette Parish juvenile and adult criminal justice system, gather data, identify deficiencies, and propose formulated and coordinated plans for change when opportunities present themselves. The committee strives to ensure the efficient and effective management of the Lafayette Parish Criminal Justice System by proactively and collaboratively engaging in information gathering and cyclical planning that embraces evidence-based assessment and evaluation of policies, programs and practices. The goal of which is to make a coordinated planning effort in making policy recommendations on vital criminal justice system issues that positively affect our community’s safety. The committee is the first of its kind in Louisiana and is modeled after others around the country. Members of the committee include:
Holly K. Howat, Executive Director of CJCC Sheriff Michael Neustrom, Chairperson
Major Art LeBreton, Chief Deputy, LPSO Julio Naudin, Communications Coordinator, LPSO
Rob Reardon, Director of Corrections LPSO Chief Jim Craft, Lafayette Police Department
Hon. Marilyn Castle, Chief Judge, 15th JDC Louis Perret, Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court
Burnell LeJeune, Interim Superintendent, Lafayette Parish Michael Hoffpauir, District Manager Lafayette Office Schools Probation & Parole
Keith Stutes, District Attorney, 15th JDC Paul Marx, District Public Defender, 15th JDC
Dee Stanley, Chief Administrative Officer, LCG Lorrie Toups, Chief Financial Officer, LCG
Joey Durel, City-Parish President, LCG Dr. Rhonda Evans, Head of UL Criminal Justice Dept.
Brad Farmer, Acadiana Area Human Services District Donald Washington, Community Liaison
For more information on how the CJCC is helping making local criminal justice and law enforcement more effective and efficient Contact Holly K. Howat, Executive Director at 337.501-2355 or at email@example.com or Julio Naudin, LPSO Communication Coordinator at 337.236.5640 or firstname.lastname@example.org