Friday, January 9, 2015

Database on Compensation for Interpreters in the Courts of the United States


Keeping up with my blog has proven a more demanding task than I imagined what I first created it because I try to generate original or unpublished information and this requires a great investment of time.  Alas, my time often goes to other undertakings, namely teaching and trying to conclude a monograph for publication at some point this fall.  However, I came across a new information resource that is so exciting and timely that I wanted to make sure to let you know about it. 

This resource is Court Interpreter Research, a new website which provides information on compensation for interpreters in courts throughout the United States.  Created in October 2013 by Robert Joe Lee, whose work focused on language access for linguistic minorities over 23 years, this website provides raw data on how staff, contract, and temporary interpreters in spoken languages – as opposed to sign language – are compensated in the various levels of the U.S. court system: Federal, state, county, and city and municipal courts.  By publishing raw compensation data, court managers, interpreters, and anyone else who has an interest in the subject can gain immediate access to important information that can be used to conduct research or for informational purposes.

The stated objective of the database is to create the most complete information possible on job titles, salary ranges, hours of work, fringe benefits, and reimbursement of expenses for both staff and contract interpreters. The database provides very useful information on job categories of staff (full-time or part-time), contract, and temporary interpreters. One thing this data shows is that patterns of interpreter employment vary from state to state, as do job categories.  For example, in Delaware the categories of contract interpreters include Registered Interpreter, Conditionally Approved Interpreter, Journeyman Interpreter, Certified Interpreter, and Certified-Master Level Interpreter (Chapter 3, page 2). It would be interesting to learn about the skills and training required for each category.  

The compensation database is made up of seven chapters and a supplement section. Chapter one describes the content of the database and how to use it. Chapter two includes data on the Administrative Office of the United States Courts –the support agency of the U.S. Judicial Branch – and the United States District Courts. Chapter three deals with the State Administrative Offices of the Courts; that is, the administrative agency of the Supreme Court in the various states. Chapter four covers the Superior Court of California in various regions of this state, with the authors providing a rationale for treating the Superior court in the state of California separately from state and county courts.  Chapter five describes compensation in county courts; and chapter six addresses city and municipal courts. Chapter seven address the court system of Florida.  While chapters one through seven are based on compensation practices for the July-December 2013 time period, the Supplement section of the database provides compensation updates reported after January 1st, 2014.  Each chapter consists of a pdf file, which once downloaded can be accessed directly from one’s computer.

It is worth noting that the database is incomplete regarding county and municipal court data, and as a result, some staff interpreters are not included in this database. For example, the database does not include county-level data on Indiana, but in Marion County (Indianapolis) there is one full-time staff interpreter who serves both as an interpreter and interpreting services coordinator for all county courts. It is likely that the fact that many states do not have unified court systems greatly complicates the task of collecting data. These omissions should not, however, minimize the importance or utility of the extensive data that the author has collected.   

f these data are useful to court managers and other parties interested in this topic, they are even more important to interpreters themselves who oftentimes do not feel comfortable talking about their own compensation, let alone asking fellow interpreters from a different state, city or court how much they make.  It is understandable that some interpreters may feel that their hourly rate is low – I certainly thought our hourly rate here in Indianapolis was low! For those interpreters who are truly underpaid, this website provides them with the evidence they need to advocate for fairer and competitive compensation. However, to my astonishment I found from the database that the rate in Indianapolis is actually higher than cities such as Denver, for example. This does not mean that we should content ourselves with our compensation; it means that not having information on interpreter compensation may cause us to have an inaccurate perception of our situation.

While this database does not include information on all jurisdictions, it does provide a good snapshot on compensation practices for interpreters. Of great value are links to sources used to compile these data.  They include links to state policies regarding policies and rates of payment for interpreting and travel for independent contract interpreters (for example, Chapter 3, page 7, provides a link to the Office of the State Court Administrator in Colorado); job descriptions, which provide incredibly valuable information on requirements and responsibilities for interpreter and interpreting services managers/coordinator in various jurisdictions; and contact information for court interpreter managers, directors of interpreter certification programs, and other key players.

It would be interesting to add to this database information on the particular settings in which interpreters work and the type of cases interpreters they are called upon to provide their services. The most common settings are the courts, naturally, but interpreters also work in and for jails, federal and state agencies such as public defenders, probation services. As for case types, interpreters are called most commonly for criminal cases, but it is not clear in which courts the services of an interpreter are provided in civil cases.  To relieve courts of their case load, many are turning to mediation; however, it is not clear if interpreting services are provided and to what extent.

The database is also evidence of the reality that there is a national market for judicial interpreters, something I know from personal experience of teaching aspiring interpreters at the graduate level.  Like our profession, this database is in a nascent stage. I hope they will support each other for the betterment of the profession and language access to justice for limited English-proficient individuals.

Key words:  Court interpreter salary,  Court interpreter categories, United States court interpreters