CourtBot is a text-message app that keeps court case information on track. In Oklahoma, after cases are assigned a case number, clients can enter their case number and CourtBot will send automatic reminders of court dates. The Code for Tulsa CourtBot team recognizes that the app can be so much more and serve so many more by leveraging community partnerships.
Topic: Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate for women and women of color in the entire world. The Code for Tulsa CourtBot project will focus efforts on Greenwood and North Tulsa neighborhoods. Due to the forces of the pandemic, economics and poor public policy more citizens have found themselves interacting with the legal system without the knowledge or tools to effectively advocate for or represent themselves when they cannot access free or low cost legal services.
Sometimes technologists build really great tools but then wonder why they are not being utilized. This was the primary challenge of Court.Bot and the catalyst to begin collaborating with our community partner, the B.C. Franklin Law Clinic at University of Tulsa. In a recent conversation with the B.C. Franklin Law Clinic we learned the importance of centering the community problem you’re trying to solve and accepting that it can sometimes change your direction in the middle of your project.
While the mission of CourtBot was noble, we recognize that we need to do more than just tell people when to be at court. The three key agencies in the Tulsa area that support justice-involved individuals, The TU Law Clinic, Legal Aid of Tulsa, and Still She Rises, often have overlapping clients and court dockets, and limited resources driving them to turn some clients away. Many of these individuals are the same members of the community who CourtBot was designed to help.
It is not enough for us to provide alerts of when to appear; we need to help them whether respondent or petitioner to self-advocate and too often, to self-represent, (Pro Se), in a scary and unclear legal system.
So we’ve learned some very important lessons. One of the few things Oklahoma does well is have a consolidated statewide case information system, OSCN, as our primary data source. It’s a great resource to data mine, but it’s not great for the average citizen to search and navigate without desktop computer access and without some familiarity with using the search tool. We may have just assumed people know their case number, but that’s not always the case.
Call to Action: So what can we do about it? The next phase of CourtBot 2.x is to enhance the capabilities we already offer using the AWS Lex / Lamba and enhance the Python based court scraper technology. We need to make it more user friendly and community facing by providing a decision tree of those who know their case number, versus those who do not and provide an easy and (hopefully) multilingual UI to search OSCN from our app in a mobile friendly manner. In partnership with The University of Tulsa’s, B.C. Franklin Law Clinic and Legal Aid of Tulsa, the CourtBot team is planning a town hall with community members that may use the app. Feedback gathered from the community members who participate in the focus group and our partners at TU Law clinic will be used to iterate and improve on the prototype.
The second major enhancement will be to identify Pro Se litigants, people who represent themselves in court without an attorney, and with the help of the legal providers mentioned earlier, provide push notifications of forms, documents and dates for things such as protective orders, income verifications, parental rights and much more.
The courts and our citizens are impacted when navigating the legal system without representation. Delays, loss of custody and serious outcomes can occur. How can you help? It is just as important that technology and ease-of-use work together. We’ve got opportunities for front-end and back-end developers as well as creatives who can help with the branding and communications. And while we’re at it, we’ve got to make sure we ensure CourtBot addresses ACCESSIBILITY options. It’s easy to get involved, just go to our link .
We welcome all skill levels of volunteers.