How Fair is Your State’s Legal System to the Poor, Disabled, and Others?
Date:  03-07-2014

Find out with The National Center for Access to Justice’s inter-active map
Many people throughout the world look to America as a country where citizens enjoy equal justice under the law. While America certainly has one of the best justice systems, not everyone is treated fairly. Not having a level playing field in the legal system gives rise to overcrowding in our country’s prisons. According to The National Center for Access to Justice (NCAJ) at Cardozo Law School, some states do better in providing resources to court-involved individuals than others. The NCAJ put together an interactive database that allows one to click on a state and learn if that state is”…following practices and providing the resources necessary to make the legal system fair to everyone.”

The Justice Index examines four areas:

  • The number of civil legal aid attorneys serving the poor. The ratio of attorneys for people in poverty to attorneys for everyone is 1:40. Click here to go to website.

  • Systems available to assist self represented litigants. Forty-five percent of states do not guide judges to assist people without counsel. Click here to go to website.

  • Systems available to assist people with limited English proficiency. Twenty-five percent of states do not use interpreters who are certified. Click here to go to website.

  • Systems available to assist people with disabilities. For those who cannot see, hear, speak or otherwise navigate a courthouse, or for those with emotional and cognitive challenges that make it difficult for them to participate in their own cases, access to justice depends on support from the justice system. Click here to go to website.

    The NCAJ offers examples of some of the issues that those needing legal counsel might face, including:

  • The Cost of Hiring an Attorney: The average family of four earns about $1,300 per week (before taxes). Lawyers routinely charge $250 per hour or more. The cost of even simple matters can quickly become a hardship for middle class families. So, many Americans go without legal assistance for matters as critical as saving their home, maintaining custody over their children, and preserving their life savings. The Justice Index highlights states that have found ways to help people represent themselves better and to make lawyers available for little or no cost.

  • Getting In and Getting Heard: For those who communicate in sign language or who have limited ability to speak English, access to the courts requires assistance that is often not available. Even in the courtroom itself, interpreters can be hard to find or of poor quality. Some states even charge deaf Americans for sign language interpreters. Outside the courtroom, language assistance is scarcer still. But the Justice Index
  • shows that many states have innovative programs that can be models of how to make sure that disability or language issues don’t allow anyone to be denied his or her day in court.

    To view the findings of the Justice Index click here to go to website.

    To learn more about The National Center for Access to Justice click here to go to website.

    Source: The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University