Howard County has kicked off a new service to remind criminal defendants of upcoming hearing dates – an effort officials hope will limit jail population figures and the resources law enforcement spends on tracking down people who failed to show in court.

“As most of you probably know, the two highest categories of people who are housed in the Howard County jail are those who have failed to appear for hearings, or probation violations,” Superior Court 1 Judge William Menges told Howard County Council members this week.

Last fall, Menges explained, the county transitioned to the Odyssey Case Management System, which maintains court records and dockets. 

The Indiana Judicial Branch describes Odyssey as “a person-based system, which allows for a directory of people and entities. For example, a judge has the ability to access all criminal cases that a defendant has in other courts around the state.”

And, starting Monday night, it has started to serve a new purpose for Howard County.

The county is now utilizing text messaging to criminal defendants.

Five days before a defendant’s next hearing date, they will receive a text message reminding them of the upcoming hearing.

Another message is sent one day before the hearing telling them “that they need to be in court,” said Menges. 

“Which in other counties has resulted in a significant decrease in failures to appear,” he continued.

“With any luck at all we are going to have a significant impact on the number of people who get warrants for failure to appear, which should have a good impact on the population at the jail as well.”

Menges told council members that Dustin Delong, the director of Howard County’s community supervision program, will be “developing the policies and procedures to enable us to capture the cellphone numbers in as large a percentage of cases as possible – and as soon as possible in the process.”

Howard County Jail Commander Robin Byers said in an email that there were 551 charges of failure to appear in the county last year. She noted that some people may have more than one charge of failure to appear.

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