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New technology aims to help clients of public defenders

MINNEAPOLIS — New technology is giving people who opt for public defenders in Hennepin County a way to receive hearing reminders and to communicate directly with their attorneys.

The technology by San Francisco-based Uptrust is designed to help people make their court dates and avoid being jailed, as well as save taxpayers money. It allows public defenders to communicate with their clients through a website or a smartphone app.

It costs about $5.1 million a year for Hennepin County to jail people who failed to attend court hearings and about $1.4 million to hold court hearings where defendants don’t appear, according to a 2019 report from the Fourth Judicial District. The report also found a significant personal financial impact for defendants who are jailed.

Uptrust, which launched in 2016, already works with more than 100 public defenders offices in 30 states. The company says its technology has been able to cut the number of people who fail to show up for court hearings by half.

Company co-founder and CEO Jacob Sills said George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis in May helped spur the partnership with Hennepin County public defenders. Uptrust has donated its services to the Minnesota county for a year,