Minneapolis residents charged with minor crimes will soon get free rides to court if they need them, thanks to a $50,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation.
Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal said her office is trying to end the cycle of low-level offenders ending up in jail, and a common reason is not showing up for court, often for lack of transportation.
“We’re hoping it will further improve appearances for required court dates,” Segal said Wednesday. “Cases can get resolved, individuals can get them behind them and they are not at risk for being arrested for failure to appear.”
The program is expected to launch in February.
Residents who are eligible for representation by public defenders will get free rides to and from the court and meetings with their lawyers. The city will contract with health care tech company Hitch Health to provide round-trip rides to an estimated 1,600 defendants charged with misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors, such as reckless driving, disorderly conduct and carrying a gun without a permit. The City Attorney’s Office’s criminal division prosecutes these cases.
“It’s an experiment, and we’ll try and see how much it’s useful and do some evaluation after the fact,” Segal said.
Segal said the new ride program is part of her office’s criminal justice reforms. Another initiative, called a “sign-and-release” warrant, gives people who miss their first court date for a lower-level misdemeanor a second chance. When a law enforcement officer comes across a defendant, instead of arresting and booking the person in jail, the officer will give the defendant a new court date.
From the beginning of 2017 to March 2018, Hennepin County courts issued 2,173 “sign-and-release” warrants to defendants for failure to appear for misdemeanor cases. Of those, 70 percent showed up for their new court hearing, according to data from the City Attorney’s Office.
Hennepin County, which already offers the rides program, will give an expected 3,000 defendants free rides to courts and to appointments with public defenders in 2019, according to the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.