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Program Profile: Text Message Reminders of Court Dates for Victims and Witnesses (Staffordshire, England)

Evidence Rating: No Effects - One study No Effects - One study

Date: This profile was posted on February 19, 2019

Program Summary

This program was designed to reduce non-appearance rates by notifying victims or witnesses by text message 2 or 3 days before they were scheduled to appear in court. The message acts as a “nudge” to remind and encourage witnesses or victims to attend court. The program is rated No Effects. There were no statistically significant differences in non-appearance rates for participants who received a text message reminder, compared with participants who did not.

This program’s rating is based on evidence that includes at least one high-quality randomized controlled trial.

Program Description

Program Goals/Program Components
The program was designed to reduce non-appearance rates by notifying victims or witnesses by text message 2 or 3 days before they were scheduled to appear in court. The text messages were sent to all witnesses who were required to make a court appearance by the Crown Prosecution Service, in Staffordshire, England. The text message reminder acted as a “nudge” to remind witnesses or victims who agreed to attend and encourage those who were unwilling or unsure.

Caseworkers were assigned to deliver the text messages to victims and witnesses. Supervisors oversaw the process to ensure messages were delivered on time. In addition, caseworkers updated their files on the Witness Management System to note when the text message had been sent. (For an example of the content of the text message, please see Implementation Information.)

Program Theory
This program was based on findings from research on nudge messages. These messages encourage or guide behavior in an unobtrusive manner and can influence people to make good decisions without restricting their freedom (Halpern 2015; Kahneman 2012). For this program, the nudge text message was used to remind witnesses or victims of their commitment and attempt to change the minds of those who may not have wanted to appear in court. The text messages were personalized, using the name of the witness or victim to activate the “cocktail party effect”, which causes readers to filter out competing stimuli and focus their attention on where their name has been mentioned (Conway and Cowan 2001; Shapiro et al. 1997; Cherry 1953).

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Appearance Rates
Cumberbatch and Barnes (2018) did not find statistically significant differences in appearance rates for victims or witnesses who received a nudge text message, compared with those who did not. The attendance rate was 77.8 percent within the control group and 75.5 percent within the treatment group.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Cumberbatch and Barnes (2018) used a randomized controlled trial to examine how text message reminders influence attendance rates for victims and witnesses called to appear in court. The study was conducted in Staffordshire, England, across three magistrates’ courts in North Staffordshire, Cannock, and Derby.

Data on witnesses and victims was obtained from the Witness Management System. Participants were randomly assigned to either the treatment or the control group. The treatment group received a nudge text message for a court appearance, and the control group did not. The nudge text was standardized; however, personal information, such as the person’s name and the date of the trial, were inserted. The study was conducted for 15 weeks with an average of 54 participants per week.

The sample comprised 811 witnesses or victims randomly assigned to the treatment or control groups. The two groups were well balanced on age, gender, ethnicity, geographic location, and victim-to-witness ratio. Of the treatment group (n=405), 61 percent were British, 4 percent identified as other, and 35 percent did not state their ethnicity. A little over half of the treatment group (53.2 percent) were witnesses, and the other half (46.8 percent) were victims. A total of 330 messages were successfully sent to participants in the treatment group. Twenty-six witnesses were excused from appearing at the trial, two witnesses informed the police of their refusal to appear, and nine witnesses were unable to be contacted when the text messages failed to send. Of the control group (n = 406), 56 percent were British, 4 percent identified as other, and 40 percent did not state their ethnicity. Less than half of the control group (47.41 percent) were witnesses, and a little more than half (52.59 percent) were victims. An independent t-test was conducted to identify potential differences in court appearance rates for the two groups. The study authors conducted subgroup analyses.
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Cost

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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Implementation Information

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The study by Cumberbatch and Barnes (2018) used a standard general text message and inserted specific and personal information, such as the individual’s name, court, date, time and unique reference number (URN), as in the following:

“STAFFORDSHIRE POLICE REMINDER: <Insert name>, you are required to give evidence at <insert court name> on <insert date>. Upon arrival, please report to the main reception by <insert time>. If you have a problem attending, please contact us on 01785 235648 (police reference <insert number> URN).”
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Other Information

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Cumberbatch and Barnes (2018) conducted subgroup analyses to examine whether attendance was moderated by crime type. The four most common crime types were property, violent, traffic, and sexual offenses. The number of traffic (91) and sexual offenses (26) were too small to allow for meaningful comparative analysis. Researchers did not find any significant differences in attendance rates between violent crimes and property crimes. The researchers also tracked trial outcomes, which were divided into four categories: 1) guilty, 2) not guilty, 3) adjourned, and 4) withdrawn. They found a statistically significant effect for the treatment group in being more likely to record a guilty outcome (58 percent), compared with the control group (51 percent). To explain this finding, the researchers theorized that the nudge texts may have affected the ways in which those who did attend testified in court, affecting the odds of a guilty verdict.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Cumberbatch, Jonathan R., and Geoffrey C. Barnes. 2018. “This Nudge Was Not Enough: A Randomised Trial of Text Message Reminders of Court Dates to Victims and Witnesses.” Cambridge Journal of Evidence Based Policing 2:35–51.
https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs41887-018-0024-4.pdf
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Cherry, E. Colin. 1953. “Some Experiments on the Recognition of Speech, with One and with Two Ears.” The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 25(5):975–79.

Conway, A. R. A. and N. Cowan. 2001. “The Cocktail Party Phenomenon Revisited: The Importance of Working Memory Capacity.” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 8(2):331–335.

Halpern, D. 2015. Inside the Nudge Unit. London, England: W.H. Allen.

Kahneman, D. 2012. Thinking, Fast and Slow. London, England: Penguin.

Shapiro, K., J. Caldwell, and R. Sorensen.1997. “Personal Names and the Attentional Blink: A Visual “Cocktail Party” Effect.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 23:504–14.
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Program Snapshot

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: White, Other

Geography: Rural, Suburban, Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting, Courts

Program Type: Victim Programs, Court Processing, Reminders/Notifications

Targeted Population: Victims of Crime

Current Program Status: Not Active