One of the most effective ways to make sure a defendant shows up at their trial is to send them a text reminder with the court date. Instead of texting criminal defendants, Kansas City spends millions of dollars every year to hold people in jail while they await trial. Like nearly all other cities, Kansas City has long used its municipal jail as a catchall punishment for those who violate city codes — whether they’re convicted for violating a domestic violence probation or if they’re simply awaiting trial for a low-level charge, News From The States reports. “People lose jobs, and they lose their homes and apartments and their vehicles by spending time in jail,” said Amaia Cook, who serves on a commission looking to lower the number of people locked up on minor criminal charges. “Our community members have needs, and we know that locking people up is not a way to meet those needs.”
The commission argues for more creative solutions to reduce crime — like those court date-reminder texts — that could save taxpayers money without jailing defendants and putting people’s housing and jobs at risk by locking them up. For someone living under a bridge or in the midst of a severe psychotic episode, people arguing for change say that jail does nothing to resolve the underlying issues. At worst, it can make the problem more severe and launch a relentless cycle of jail sentence after jail sentence. That, they say, ends up increasing crime, not reducing it. In June, the Kansas City Council voted to form the Alternatives to Incarceration Commission to explore alternatives that can spare more people from the criminal justice system and steer them toward social services. The commission formed with support from Decarcerate KC, a group that advocates to end the city’s reliance on incarceration and policing.