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Can't remember your court date? Cass County Jail has an app for that

The Promise app can help offenders keep track of goals and court dates by sending automated reminders. April Baumgarten / The Forum

FARGO — A phone app that reminds offenders about court-ordered appointments and goals may save time for Cass County Jail staff and improve outcomes for offenders. Depending on the app's success, leaders could expand its use statewide.

Staff with Promise Network Inc. recently installed the company's app for the jail, after the County Commission unanimously approved the one-year pilot project. The app is designed to send text messages to offenders in the Cass County community supervision program.

The app can remind offenders about court-ordered appointments and goals, including drug testing, case manager check-ins, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and court appearances. Users also can log into the app to look at care plans, said Evan Marshak of Promise Network.

“The idea is the app can free case managers up to focus on outcomes for their clients,” Marshak said.

The North Dakota Department of Human Services approached the jail about using the app and gave the facility $35,000 to operate the app in the first year, said Jail Administrator Capt. Andrew Frobig.


After that, the app would cost the county $15,000 a year. If it's successful enough, Human Services may use it in other counties or statewide, he said.

It's unclear how much the app would cost to implement statewide, but Human Services will "consider opportunities to expand locations or connect to other programs we administer," said Pam Sagness, director of the department's behavioral health division.

The app came to fruition after Cass County launched its community supervision unit in April 2018. The unit was created to provide an alternative to incarceration.

It was part of the solution to prevent contraband from coming into the jail . But the program required staff to send reminders to offenders and keep track of their progress, taking away time for staff to support participants.


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Two officers who oversee the community supervision unit previously sent texts manually to offenders reminding them about their obligations. The app eliminates that work by sending texts automatically and tracking records electronically, said Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Violet, commander of the community supervision unit.
“If they have someone who is having a difficult time, we can focus more on that person and less on the people who are in full compliance,” Violet said.

The jail often sees inmates struggling with a mental health condition or substance use disorder, Sagness said.

"Sometimes these struggles result in difficulty staying on top of things, like what time was I supposed to check in with my case manager, did I take my medications, when is my aftercare, and where is the nearest support group?" she said.


Reminders about court-ordered requirements could help offenders avoid jail time, as well as aid them in staying in the community to work, care for their families, and get the treatment and support they need, she said.

About 30 people were set to use the app in the first week. Offenders can use the app for free, Frobig said.

The cost for the jail to put a person on the app is about the same as the cost of feeding an inmate, Frobig said. However, more officers are needed to supervise inmates than are required to oversee the community supervision unit, he said.

The jail spent about $89 per inmate per day, a cost that includes salaries, benefits, training costs, equipment and supplies for staff, as well as food, medical and transportation costs for inmates, Frobig said.

Other law enforcement agencies, both local and federal, in the western U.S. have used Promise's app, Marshak said, adding that it’s slowly moving east.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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