Millions of people in the U.S. every year are required to attend mandatory court dates as their cases proceed through the criminal legal system. Despite potentially severe consequences from missing court—including arrest and incarceration—many still fail to appear. Past work suggests that court absences stem in part from people forgetting about their court dates, as well as confusion about when and where to show up. In response, automated court date reminders, sent via text message, are increasingly used across the U.S. with the hope that they will increase court attendance. But previous research offers mixed evidence on whether these reminders are effective, in part due to the difficulty of running experiments that are sufficiently powered to detect anticipated effects. Here we report the results of a large field experiment that we ran in partnership with the Santa Clara County Public Defender Office to examine whether automated text message reminders improve appearance rates. We randomly assigned 4,691 public defender clients either to receive regular reminders about their upcoming court dates (treatment) or to not receive these reminders (control). Clients in the treatment condition received a text message reminder seven days, three days, and one day before each court date. We found that automated reminders reduced the number of warrants for arrest issued for missing court by over 20%, with 12.4% of clients in the control condition issued a warrant compared to 9.7% of clients in the treatment condition. Our results bolster a growing body of evidence demonstrating the promise of automated reminders to improve court appearance rates and reduce the concomitant negative consequences of missing court.


Chohlas-Wood, Alex, Madison Coots, Joe Nudell, Julian Nyarko, Emma Brunskill, Todd Rogers, and Sharad Goel. "Automated Court Date Reminders Reduce Warrants for Arrest: Evidence from a Text Messaging Experiment." .