PBC and Uptrust launch partnership to reduce FTAs in court

The Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) and Uptrust, the criminal justice-focused text message communication and reminder service, announce the official launch of a partnership to reduce the number of failure to appear (FTA) incidents and their associated arrest warrants in the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida.

The partnership, which joins more than a dozen established Uptrust contracts with jurisdictions across the country, is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, an international advocacy organization.

“This collaborative effort between the Criminal Justice Commission, Public Defender, State Attorney, Clerk and Pretrial Services should contribute significantly to our goal of reducing the number of people who are arrested simply for failing to appear in court,” said Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Colbath. “As an implementation site with the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge, we are committed to strategies that help to avoid needless incarceration while continuing to keep our communities safe.”

The partnership with the Uptrust text messaging platform is slated to reduce costs and improve efficiency for attorneys, staff and law enforcement officials, while decreasing the number of arrests for FTAs. According to Palm Beach County records, 14 percent of admissions to the Palm Beach County Jail in 2016 were for simply failing to appear in court.

Under the agreement, Uptrust, the Palm Beach County Public Defender’s Office, Pretrial Services and the Clerk & Comptroller will work together, resulting in Public Defender clients receiving text reminders for their court dates. Messages are being sent in English, Spanish or Creole, at the defendant’s request.
“The right to liberty is a basic American value. Our failure to preserve that right puts our very democracy at risk,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “We are proud to join Palm Beach County, Uptrust and other partners to create a low-cost, effective model of criminal justice reform which can be rolled out across the nation.”

Uptrust’s platform is the product of research indicating that many defendants miss court because they forgot, were never reminded, could not find childcare or did not ask for the time off from work. Currently, local governments across the country spend more than $9 billion on unnecessary pretrial incarceration, and an additional $1 billion issuing and enforcing FTAs. At the same time, bench warrants can become wasteful of law enforcement’s time and funds. By reducing FTAs and bench warrants, Uptrust helps law enforcement to focus on their most important goal: public safety.

“As our first Florida site, we’re excited to work with Palm Beach County because of its commitment to being a leader for criminal justice reform,” said Uptrust founder Jacob Sills. “As a model for the entire state of Florida, we look forward to more ways to preserve jail only for those who truly are a public safety risk.”

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