Wednesday, October 14, 2020


Issa Kohler-Hausmann ’08 on Nudging People to Appear in Court

Issa Kohler-Hausmann

In a new article in Science, Professor of Law Issa Kohler-Hausmann ’08 responds to recent research on how behavioral nudges can decrease “failure to appear” (FTA) rates in court.

READ: “Nudging People to Court”

Small behavior nudges such as form redesign and text message reminders to appear in court have been shown to decrease the FTA rate, which in New York City in 2015 was as high as 40 percent. Such absences usually result in the issue of an arrest warrant and other collateral consequences. But Kohler-Hausmann writes that the recent research fails to capture the many mental states a person might have when they “choose” not to go to court, beyond insufficient awareness of one’s legal obligations.

“To live in poverty and in highly policed neighborhoods in America is to be constantly subjected to such demands — from police, courts, welfare agencies, child services, landlords — and to hear a persistent message that one’s failure to successfully perform is proof of one’s unfitness for concern and respect in our polity,” she writes. The hundreds of thousands of summonses and misdemeanor arrests in New York City are concentrated in poor in minority communities, according to the article.

Behavioral interventions, she says, may improve court attendance but do not qualify as true criminal legal reform. “Changing the approach to penal and welfare policy in our country will require interventions that are much more radical than cost-neutral behavioral nudges that everyone can agree on,” Kohler-Hausmann writes.

Issa Kohler-Hausmann is Professor of Law at Yale Law School and Associate Professor of Sociology at Yale. Kohler-Hausmann’s current research explores the nature and meaning of social categories in legal doctrine and social science explanations, specifically how these categories are conceptualized for purposes of defining and detecting discrimination.

Her award-winning book Misdemeanorland: Criminal Courts and Social Control in an Age of Broken Windows Policing (Princeton, 2018) exposes how New York City’s signature policing initiative imposed underappreciated forms of social control upon hundreds of thousands of people arrested for low-level crimes. Kohler-Hausmann’s current research explores the nature and meaning of social categories in legal doctrine and social science explanations, specifically how these categories are conceptualized for purposes of defining and detecting discrimination.