Defendants in Shelby County courtrooms can now get free bus passes, the latest pilot program launched by the county government in an effort to make it easier for residents to show up to court.
The program, which officially launched Wednesday, has started with 200 bus passes, costing the county $400 and the cost of posters.
Any defendant can pick up a bus pass from pretrial services, which has offices on the eighth floor and lower level of 201 Poplar.
“It’s a need that we saw out there," said Jerri Green, senior policy adviser to Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. "I am passionate about it because I think it does two things the government should do more of, and that’s be compassionate and use common sense.”
Green, a former public defender, said she has often seen people with transportation issues. Sometimes they have to rely on family or friends for a ride, but that may not always be possible.
"And that means you get a bench warrant, that means you end up in jail. You end up in jail, you lose your job. You lose your job, you lose your housing. So something as simple as a $2 bus pass can get you back and forth to court.”
If the program works, there will also be a cost savings to the government in not having to jail people who miss their court dates.
Every bus pass will be logged, with the county tracking whether they actually help people show up for court. The passes are "day passes" for the Memphis Area Transit Authority.
“This came at a very good time for us because now not only can our clients get the bus passes, but it’s opened up to everyone who needs them to get back and forth to court," said Llana Greer, director of pretrial services.
They also are hopeful that people being released from jail can get the passes, especially for women held in Jail East, which is far from easy transportation.
“Service is what we do in pretrial services. Whenever there is an initiative that is going to benefit our citizens, our clients, we’re 100% behind it," Greer said.
The pilot program follows a texting program previously launched by pretrial services after a successful pilot.
Before that pilot, 73% of those eligible for the program showed up for their court dates. As of December, more than 97% of the people enrolled were showing up for their court dates.
After the bus passes pilot, the county will discuss whether the data warrants expansion, just as they did on the texting program.
“We know there are transportation needs, especially for the population that ends up here at 201," Green said. "We also know there are other priorities that mass transit helps with like helping with climate change and to reduce green house gasses. It fits into a lot of priorities of this administration, so we’re hoping we can continue on and expand.”
Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Shelby County launches free bus pass pilot for defendants