Pilot Proposal Narrative
Our larger proposed experimental evaluation will identify the effect of two court outreach programs specifically targeted at people experiencing homelessness. Both interventions are likely to involve substantial costs relative to what existing field experiments have increasingly shown effectively reduce FTAs in the general population: text message-based reminders.
There is a consensus among practitioners and researchers who work in this area that text reminders are unlikely to be effective for people experiencing homelessness. Still to our knowledge, this reasonable conjecture has not been explicitly tested.
If the results of Cooke et al. (2018) were generalizable to the Shasta County context, we would expect an approximately 28% reduction in FTAs in a treatment group receiving this message relative to a control group. We do not necessarily anticipate Cooke et al. (2018) to be generalizable, however, for two reasons. Most importantly, eligibility for the Cooke et al. (2018) evaluation was predicated on providing a cell phone number to the court. Secondly, Cooke et al. (2018) was conducted in New York City, as opposed to the less dense, more rural Shasta County.
As a result, while we can appeal to existing experimental studies to estimate that text-message based reminders can lower the FTA rates in misdemeanor cases by up to 30%, we do not have a clear prior about the size of τ, the impact of text-message based reminders on FTA rates for people experiencing homelessness.
Assignment to Treatment
We, therefore, propose a short pilot study that will attempt to replicate the results of a recent text message evaluation, Cooke et al. (2018), in Shasta County. Once court dates are scheduled, we will construct a stratified random sample of people charged with general misdemeanors and homelessness-related misdemeanors to receive treatment. All individuals with assigned court dates are currently sent automated voice messages via PhoneTree. Through an app developed by a third party, treated individuals will also be sent text message reminders.
We will use a slightly modified version of the most effective message in Cooke et al. (2018), modified slightly to reflect institutional constraints in Shasta County, which both reminded individuals of the consequences of failing to appear, and prompted recipients to plan how they would appear.
You have court on (*date, three days from now*, at *time*) at 1500 Court Street, in Redding. What time should you leave to get there by *time*? Any other arrangements to make? Missing court can lead to your arrest.
We will evaluate this study by comparing the FTA rates across control and treatment groups, accounting for the within-charge type randomization. We will also test whether the impact varies across people more or less likely to be experiencing housing instability.
To inform our planned larger study, after the completion of the experimental period, we will compare the individuals in our sample, in both control and treatment groups, to rosters of individuals receiving services at a large local service provider. This will provide insight into the feasibility of providing additional reminders through local service providers in a subsequent larger study, including providing parameters for a power calculation.
We also intend to use data in this pilot to explore potential heterogeneity in effects along various socioeconomic and criminal justice related dimensions to inform any potential blocking designs in a subsequent larger study.
Cooke, Brice, Binta Zahra Diop, Alissa Fishbane, Jonathan Hayes, Aurelie Ouss, and Anuj Shah. 2018.
Using Behavioral Science to Improve Criminal Justice Outcomes: Preventing Failure to Appear in Court.” Chicago. University of Chicago Urban Lab Report.