App designed to reduce incarceration rate and also save taxpayer money

One of the most confusing aspects of the criminal justice system is the consequence of an accused not appearing for a court-mandated appointment.

“The person will end up in jail for missing their court appearance,” said Blanca Hernandez, assistant public defender for Contra Costa County. “Even if they are found guilty on the original charge, they may not have spent a day in jail.”

The county has contracted Uptrust, a private technology company, to help end this inequity — and save taxpayers money in the process.

Jacob Sills co-founded Uptrust to help people avoid jail who shouldn’t be there, in line with his company’s mission statement. Sills, the chief executive, found that too many defendants missed their court appointments due to financial problems, transportation problems or simply a lack of communication from the court.

“When people miss their probation, they end up in jail,” Sills said in a phone interview. “A lot of the problems stem from poverty. That’s why they’re violating their probation. We’re helping the system stay engaged with their clients.”

Sills uses the word “client” when talking about those who are negatively affected by the criminal justice system.

Uptrust has developed an app that connects defendants with their probation officer or public defender’s office, enabling direct and timely communication between parties to resolve reporting issues, including arrest warrants and prison sentences.

Sills said his company saves government money, helps its clients succeed, and improves the quality of life for government staff, who benefit from less paperwork and administrative hassles.

“Our job is to make everyone’s life easier,” said Sills, who added that clients don’t pay a penny for his service, which is available to all defendants on arraignment.

Contra Costa County has annual contracts with Uptrust through September totaling $65,000, according to county public defender Ellen McDonnell. Sills said McDonnell was the first to adopt his company in the Bay Area, with Alameda and Marin counties recently signing on.

“In 2021, there were 1,940 failed to appear,” Hernandez said, out of a total of 5,667 arraignments.

The cost to the county of a failure to appear is $847, she said, which includes time in court, three hours of arrest and booking for the officer and an average of three nights in jail for the accused.

Hernandez noted that the county has no way of tracking how many defendants have benefited from Uptrust, but if only 77 of the arraigned defendants who otherwise would have slipped through the cracks had made their appointments through business, the contract would have paid for itself. Uptrust is one of three Bay Area organizations that have received a total of $650,000 in grants from the Bernard J. Tyson Impact Fund, sponsored by the American Heart Association.

“This grant gives significant funding each year to organizations that show us they are doing measurable work to impact the underlying factors that make good health nearly impossible to achieve in some of our communities across the region. bay,” AHA ​​spokeswoman Donna Kato said.

Youth Alive!, an Oakland community organization that employs young people to help reduce violence in the city, and Cognitive ToyBox, a New York-based company that has created an objective approach to measuring toddler’s learning abilities. childhood, also received a 2022 Tyson grant.

The grant opportunity is available to community groups that apply and meet the AHA’s search criteria, said Valerie Dao, portfolio manager of the AHA’s Social Impact Funds.

“We apply to local organizations, organize town halls, we narrow down the list and our investment steering committee makes the final decision,” she said.

The AHA’s search criteria include evidence-based and sustainable solutions to reduce health and funding inequities. The next Tyson Social Impact Fund window will open in early summer for the Bay Area.

About Stuart M. McFarland

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