Tuesday, December 13, 2011

State Justice Institute (SJI) Sets Limited English Proficiency (LEP) among new Priority Investment Areas

In my August 23 posting, I mentioned that the American Bar Association House of Delegates tabled the proposed Standards for Language Access in Courts until its February 2012 meeting.  Apparently both the Chief Justice and Court Administrators' groups presented resolutions against the standards on the basis that they were too broad regarding language access outside the courts.  Undoubtedly, costs associated with language access services weighed in the decision.  The text of the proposed standards is no longer available on ABA’s website, and a description of the Language Access Standards Project can be found instead.
Despite this reversal, proponents of the standards are addressing the issues raised in hopes they will be approved in February. 
A recent development might increase the likelihood of the standards being approved, if the interested parties take advantage of it.  On November 30, 2011, the Board of Directors of the State Justice Institute (SJI) announced the Institute’s new Priority Investment Areas; two of which are Immigration Issues in the State Courts (for example; the impact of federal and state immigration law and policies) and Limited English Proficiency (for example; interpretation service plans, remote interpretation outside the courtroom, interpreter certification, and courtroom services (plain language forms, websites, etc.)). Established by Federal law in 1984, SJI was created “to award grants to improve the quality of justice in state courts, facilitate better coordination between state and federal courts, and foster innovative, efficient solutions to common issues faced by all courts.”  Through the years, SJI has supported initiatives in these two areas, including a graduate program in Bilingual Legal Interpreting in Charleston, South Carolina created in 1999 (today deceased, alas!) with funding sources including SJI.   From 2005-2011 SJI has provided funding to an array of related initiatives, including:
1.       Development and implementation of  court document translation standards, and to translate appropriate forms and brochures (Minnesota State Court Administrator’s Office, 2006) and translation of documents in small claims proceedings (Massachusetts Trial Court and Arizona Supreme Court, 2011)
2.       Implementation or enhancement of LEP services (County of Alameda Superior Court, California, 2007; California Administrative Office of the Courts and Vermont Supreme Courts 2011)
3.       Establishment of a court interpreter certification process and the improvement of court interpreter services (Vermont Supreme Court, 2007; New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts, 2008 and 2009; and Washington Administrative Office of the Courts, 2008).
Grants have mostly been awarded to state courts and legal or judicial entities, but grantees also include the American Bar Association (two grants in 2010), the Center for Public Policy Studies (2009 and 2011), the Center for Effective Public Policy (2010), the Pew Charitable Trust (2006, 2007 and 2009), the University of Memphis (2006), and Florida International University (2005). (See above link for a brief description of the initiatives, grantee and amount awarded.)
SJI award-making efforts are structured in six main programs: 1) projects - the main SJI’s grant-program - that aim at improving the administration of justice in state courts; 2) technical assistance; 3) curriculum adaptation for courts and association to adapt curricula to specific educational needs; 4) partnerships that combine financial resources in the pursuit of a common interest; 5) strategic initiatives to address national court issues as the arise; and 6) support to educational programs for judges and court managers to attend out-of-state, court-related educational programs.
For the fiscal year 2012, the State Justice Institute requests $6,337,000 “to enhance its efforts to improve the quality of justice in state courts.”   A grant for the ABA proposed Standards for Language Access in Courts would fit in the project, curriculum adaptation (to include training in translation, for example), and partnership program categories. The above link leads to information on each of SJI’s grant programs, grant proposal requirements and deadlines. As pointed out previously, before setting Immigration Issues in the State Courts and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) as Priority Investment Areas, the State Justice Institute had supported initiatives in these two areas.  Let’s hope that its support will be even greater henceforth.  These grant opportunities need to be known more widely, and I trust this posting will contribute to get the word out. I also trust state courts will take advantage of these opportunities and will submit proposals that will enhance access to justice to Limited English Proficient individuals across the United States.