The UNC School of Government Criminal Justice Innovation Lab and The Pew Charitable Trusts and invite North Carolina jurisdictions to apply to participate in the NC Court Appearance Project. Pew and the Lab will offer free technical assistance for up to three North Carolina jurisdictions interested in examining the scope and impact of missed court dates and exploring ways to improve court appearance rates and responses to missed court dates. Because Pew and the Lab adhere to a non-partisan, evidence-based approach to criminal justice policy, this project will be grounded in data, research, and stakeholder collaboration and priorities.
Why Court Appearance?
Although the majority of defendants show up for court, no-shows in even a small percentage of cases add up to a large number of rescheduled hearings, causing inconvenience and inefficiency for court personnel, witnesses, and victims. Additionally, common responses to non-appearances can land people in jail or prevent them from driving, causing significant consequences for them and their families. Research on behavioral science and system innovation show that courts can get better outcomes with targeted changes in policy and practice.
Free Technical Assistance
Pew and the Lab will provide free technical assistance to participating jurisdictions. With support from data and policy analysts, stakeholder teams will examine local data and develop solutions that work for their communities. Technical assistance will vary based on local needs, but generally will include:
- Analysis of the scope and impact of missed court appearances,
- Examination of relevant research in the field and promising case studies across the country,
- Opportunities for input from other stakeholders and community members,
- Facilitation of meetings and policy discussions, and
- Drafting a comprehensive report for stakeholders on project findings and any policy or practice change agreed upon by the stakeholder teams.
Rather than offering a standard set of policy solutions, Pew and the Lab will support each team to develop and implement solutions tailored for their local community. Depending on local priorities, each team may:
- Explore new avenues to increase court appearances,
- Adopt responses to missed court dates that advance the jurisdiction’s pretrial goals and reduce collateral consequences for people charged with crimes and their families, and
- Identify whether racial and ethnic disparities exist in court appearance rates or responses to missed court dates, and if so, take steps to address them.
Teams may be led by the senior resident superior court judge or the chief district court judge and will include key judicial branch and law enforcement officials within the jurisdiction.
Required Team Members
- Senior resident superior court judge
- Chief district court judge
- District attorney(s) or designee
- Chief public defender(s) or designee, or if none, defense representative
- Clerk(s) of court or designee
- Sheriff(s) or designee
Optional Team Members
Each team may also select up to two additional team members. These individuals should add relevant expertise, expand capacity of the overall team, and work in or adjacent to the justice system. An additional team member could be a chief magistrate, police chief, county commissioner, head of pretrial services, jail navigator, community advocate, person with lived experience in the justice system, or anyone else who fits the above criteria.
What’s Expected from Stakeholder Teams?
We will help each team understand their local data and develop policy solutions that work for their communities. We are seeking solution-oriented teams that will dedicate time and energy to monthly meetings and other contacts with technical assistance staff; who are open to adapting practices based on data, research, and models from other jurisdictions; and who can provide access to additional data to inform policy discussions.
Teams will meet monthly between September 2021 and March 2022. Most meetings will be virtual, but at least one in-person meeting will be held for all sites. Throughout the project, team members will have occasional short calls with technical assistance staff.
Technical assistance will include analysis of case records contained in the Lab’s North Carolina Information System. To augment this analysis and better understand the full impact of missed court appearances on the criminal justice system, Pew and the Lab will prioritize applications from sites that can:
- Provide jail data for at least two years of bookings. Data should include fields that capture demographics, booking and release dates, offense and case information, and booking and release reasons.
- Support technical assistance staff to conduct an on-site case file review. Technical assistance staff will review paper files to collect additional data. Doing so will require support from clerk’s office staff to allow access to or pull case files for examination.
Pew and the Lab will work cooperatively with jail and court staff to minimize the burden on them. Data gathered will be used only for this project, and Pew and the Lab will follow strict data security protocols for data transfer and use.
How to Apply
Interested jurisdictions can and apply online at https://cjil.sog.unc.edu/court-appearance-project/. The application should be completed by the stakeholder team leader – either the senior resident superior court judge or chief district court judge. After completing the application, each member of the stakeholder team must sign and submit a letter of commitment, which can be accessed from the online application. Officials who select a designee to serve in their place must still submit a letter of commitment and specify their designee. Deadline to apply is August 20.