Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Childcare at the Courthouse

Should Dallas County provide childcare for those summoned for jury duty? 

Texas allows counties to provide childcare as a means of increasing responses to jury summons. Theoretically, this should decrease the amount of people claiming hardship as an excuse to serving. Studies show that many young and impoverished parents simply cannot afford to serve because of the costs of childcare. See Susan C. Losh, Adina W. Wasserman & Michael A. Wasserman, Factors Other Than Reluctance to Serve Explain Failure to Appear for Jury Duty, 83 Judicature 305, 305 (May-Jun. 2000). But does it work? And how would Dallas County implement this reform?

Texas should look at counties that have provided childcare for potential jurors to answer these questions. Free or subsidized childcare facilities for potential jurors are found in the following states: California, ColoradoFloridaIllinoisIndianaKentuckyMarylandMassachusettsMinnesotaNevadaNew JerseyNew YorkNorth CarolinaOregonPennsylvaniaWashington, and West VirginiaSome counties actually hire staff to watch the children at the courthouse. California has adopted this measure with the California Government Code 26826.3. The code states 
It is the policy of the state that each court shall endeavor to provide a children's waiting room in each courthouse for children whose parents or guardians are attending a court hearing as a litigant, witness, or for other court purposes as determined by the court.
This is probably unlikely in Dallas County. Neither the George Allen nor the Frank Crowley courthouses have the room to provide childcare services. Likewise, both courthouses were recently renovated in areas with limited space. Therefore, the prospect of constructing an additional structure is highly unlikely. The county is also unlikely to take on the liability associated with watching children. 

Alternatively, some courts have worked with non-profits to provide free or subsidized childcare at facilities near the courthouse. A great example of this is the Denver Warm Welcome Childcare Facility, which located across the street from the courthouse. The facility provides free daycare to anyone with business at the courthouse, meaning it helps witnesses, defendants, plaintiffs, and potential jurors. This would work extremely well with the George Allen courthouse because of its location downtown and the IV-D courts.

The location downtown helps because many parents without cars would drop their children off while walking to the courthouse. This could be even more cost effective if Dallas worked with existing childcare facilities. The childcare facility would have to indemnify the city in exchange for referrals from the courthouse and payments from the county and state. Such facilities would have a high demand. Currently, the IV-D courts have an unsupervised room where parents often have to leave their children, sometimes watched by strangers or interns with the AG's Office, before going in front of the judge.

In sum, Dallas County should provide childcare for potential jurors and anyone with business at the courthouse. The existing court buildings do not have the room to hold daycare facilities. In addition, the Frank Crowley courthouse does not have the space to build an adjacent building like the one used in Denver. However, there is room near the George Allen courthouse if the county wanted to work with a non-profit to build a daycare. The demand is already there from the IV-D courts and this would help alleviate the economic burden young parents face when deciding whether to show for jury duty. Alternatively, Dallas could work with existing daycare facilities. Either way, Dallas County needs a jury pool that better reflects the community. Providing daycare removes the hardship excuse and would increase participation among poorer and younger parents who are summoned for jury duty.

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