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Sauk County will pilot a court date reminder system that could be adopted statewide.

The system, which already is up and running, uses the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access website commonly known as CCAP to issue reminders in the form of text messages.

“These days, almost everyone has a cell phone,” said Debra O’Rourke, a Baraboo defense attorney who chairs the Sauk County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council’s Court Case Management subcommittee.

The panel of justice officials has been looking at ways to make sure more people show up for their scheduled court appearances.

When people miss court dates, it can cost taxpayers money, officials say. Between the wasted time of court system employees and the additional burden on law enforcement, the expenses add up.

Although an exact dollar amount is difficult to pin down, O’Rourke said studies in other communities have suggested that it can cost taxpayers as much as $1,400 each time someone is arrested for failing to appear in court.

After seeking out private contractors, the county was notified by CCAP officials that the state court system planned to pilot its own reminder system before the initiative launches statewide. The state system is provided free of charge.

Criminal Justice Coordinator Janelle Krueger said in Sauk County there were more than 400 failure to appear warrants filed in 2012 and 2013 each. That resulted in more than 300 arrests in each of those years.

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Local law enforcement agencies will provide a form that allows people who are cited or charged with a crime to provide their phone number and opt into the program. No one is required to participate, but O’Rourke said the information is not used for any purpose other than to send text message reminders about court dates.

“We aren’t doing it to get their information or track them,” O’Rourke said. “We are doing it to help them.”

Krueger said the county will track a number of statistics moving forward to gauge the reminder system’s impact, including failure to appear warrants, arrests and the number of people who opt in and out of the program. The county also has plans to develop a survey that would help determine why certain people decided not to participate.

The reminders come three days in advance in the form of a text message sent to a person’s cell phone. They include an individual’s case number as well as the date and time of their scheduled appearance.

It is unclear how many other counties are taking part in the pilot program or how long it will last. A state CCAP official could not be reached for comment.

O’Rourke said the new system has the potential to decrease the number of prisoners within Sauk County’s jail. Although the county doesn’t have an overcrowding problem, “low risk offenders don’t need to be locked up,” she said.

Not only does the program have the potential to save taxpayer dollars, but it can save individuals from the potential loss of a job, income, or schooling that can come as a result of an arrest, O’Rourke said.

Baraboo News Republic reporter