Failure to appear in court rates high in Washington County, contributing to overcrowding in jail

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — The Washington County Jail continues to deal with overcrowding. County leaders say one reason for this failure to appear in court rates are higher than normal.

“It creates a number of problems that clog up an already clogged up system,” said Washington County Prosecutor Matt Durrett.

Durrett said failure to appear rates are at an alarmingly high rate.

“We’re at over 900 for the year,” he said. “That’s about 100 failures to appears a month.”

He said this is bogging down a criminal justice system that is still trying to bounce back after being shut down due to the pandemic.

“When someone fails to appear there’s paperwork to be done,” he said. “Warrants to be drafted, you’ve have to contact bondsmen, you have to send out someone to look for them.”

Failure to appear is a criminal offense at a Class C Felony. 

As of October 12th, the Washington County Jail had 703 people in its custody. One hundred seventy three people had failure to appear charges, 115 of those had additional charges, meaning 58 people were in the jail solely on a failure to appear charge.

“We’re trying to think of creative ways to get them to court,” said Deputy Chief Jay Cantrell with WCSO.

The sheriff’s office partnered with a company called Uptrust, which sends text message reminders to people about their court dates.

“We’re hopeful that this is one way to reduce that failure to appear rate,” he said.

“All the data and research nationally shows that the appearance rates of when people are at least reminded of court is 30% and a live call can increase rates by even higher than that,” said Sarah Moore with the Arkansas Criminal Justice Coalition.

Moore said a lot of people aren’t missing their court dates on purpose.

“We were hearing things like a single dad who was going to need childcare during covid that didn’t want to bring him to the courthouse, people who live in rural areas that had to rely on someone else to give them a ride so it was going to be two days before they could actually come to a court date so they would miss,” she said.

This is something Prosecutor Durrett also recognizes.

“We’re trying to get those people back on the docket because it benefits everybody if you can get them back in court, get them a court date, get the system rolling,” he said.

Durrett said his office is willing to work with people who have legitimate reasons for missing a court date. He urges those people to call his office as soon as they can to let them know, and that they will do their best to reschedule that court date. That phone number is (479) 444-1570.

The county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee is also actively working on ways to reduce failure to appear rates. That committee is meeting next on Thursday at 11 a.m.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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