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Twist on Innovative Smartphone App Aims to Help Poor Tulsa County Defendants Make Court Dates

Tulsa World

By Corey Jones

Public defenders are hopeful an innovative smartphone app will significantly cut down the number of low-income Tulsa County defendants who end up back behind bars for failing to appear in court.

The Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office last week announced it has received a $50,000 grant to implement Uptrust, a two-way based communication app that provides court date reminders. The grant is part of the national Safety and Justice Challenge, fueled by $148 million from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to design and test innovative technology to achieve local criminal justice reforms.

But the functionality goes beyond simple court date reminders. Chief Public Defender Corbin Brewster said Tulsa’s unique spin on the app is to develop an interface that includes a social worker component.

“If the client says, ‘Well, I don’t have a ride that day,’ or ‘I’ve got a problem with that,’ then that message comes back into our system,” Brewster said. “And we can individually respond and then come up with individual solutions for whatever the issue is.”

Family & Children’s Services is partnering to provide that aspect. The system will track the barriers to court appearances, such as transportation, child care or work, to help quantify issues, said Mimi Tarrasch, an FCS chief program officer. FCS also can provide or connect clients to mental-health care, addiction recovery support or access to basic needs.

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