States Can Improve Court Participation

Research and analysis on what works to encourage people to show up for their cases

Mark Gilliland

Missing a court date, regardless of the reason, can result in cascading consequences for the individual who fails to appear, the community, and the court.

Many people who miss hearings and deadlines in state and local courts do so because of a lack of transportation or child care, unclear information about court dates and procedures, or simply forgetting about the appointment. And when people fail to show up to court, they may face arrest, driver’s license suspension, wage garnishment, and even jail time—all of which have broader implications for families, employers, and communities. For example, driver’s license revocation or arrest can lead to missed work—creating issues for small businesses and local economies—and a loss of family-supporting income and other benefits.

Further, missed hearings create a range of inefficiencies for courthouse operations, including additional work for court staff and a worsening backlog of cases.

To help more people show up for court, meet deadlines, and reach prompt and fair resolutions, state and local courts are adopting various strategies, including sending text message reminders, offering flexible scheduling, and re-evaluating the circumstances under which they use the most punitive responses for missed appearances.  

The Pew Charitable Trusts conducts objective, nonpartisan research, analysis, and technical assistance, informed by diverse stakeholders’ perspectives, to help state and local leaders better understand court policies and processes, identify gaps in their data collection and other issues, and implement evidence-based solutions. The resources collected here examine the factors that prevent people from showing up for court as well as strategies for increasing court participation and making courts more open, effective, and equitable.

For more information on Pew’s research, no-cost analysis, and technical assistance, contact Michelle Russell.

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