Behavioral Nudges Reduce Failure to Appear for Court

In two large field studies, the authors evaluate interventions to make defendants more aware of court information. In the first, the summons was redesigned to move court information to the top and clearly state in bold typeface that a missed court date will result in a warrant. In the second study, to supplement the redesigned form, the researchers sent text messages to highlight critical information for defendants in the week leading up to their appearance. The researchers also examined opinions about whether failures to appear were intentional. The results suggest that people are not intentionally skipping court and nudges such as making important information more noticeable are effective.

Key Findings: 

  • Failures to appear reduced by 13 percent due to the redesigned summons and 21 percent as a result of the text message updates. 
  • These nudges resulted in approximately 20,000 people having their cases fully dismissed 
  • Nudges were more effective for defendants in poorer neighborhoods and neighborhoods with higher proportions of Black and Hispanic residents. 
  • Laypeople believe failures to appear are more intentional than failures to act.
  • Criminal justice experts are more likely to believe that failures to appear are unintentional and support nudges.

You can read the full report here.

Alissa Fishbane, Aurelie Ouss, Anuj K. Shah