More than 25 million people in the United States have limited proficiency in the English language. While many of these people use English at work and in their daily lives, understanding what happens in a courtroom can be more difficult. Many others have less facility with English and are lost in telling their story – whether inside the courtroom or speaking with court clerks – without the support of a trained and qualified interpreter and without translation of official court documents.

NCAJ identified 35 policies that all states should adopt to ensure language access in the justice system. We then examined the degree to which each US state actually has these policies in place. Based on those results, we assign every state a score. Performance is measured on a scale of 0 to 100. See our methodology discussion for more details on how this scoring works and on how we do the work.

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State Scores and Rankings

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Benchmarks: Weights and Trends

Number Sort descending Question Index Weight Issues Number of "Yes" States
1 Maintain a Language Access Plan that requires the courts to do, at a minimum, the following (all elements must be in the plan): (a) perform a periodic needs assessment;
(b) monitor and evaluate language assistance services on an ongoing basis;
(c) train judges and staff on working with LEP persons;
(d) provide interpreter services or the assistance of authorized bilingual staff at key points of contact between the public and the court system;
(e) provide in-person interpreter services when not unreasonably costly and remote services when in-person services are not available;
(f) translate documents and signage identified through the needs assessment as important to assure access to language access to all persons using court services?
5 Design & Planning 29
2 Maintain a Language Services Office with the mission to facilitate the provision of language services in the Court system? 10 Design & Planning 34
3 Completed within past three years a language services needs assessment (including data collection from, at a minimum: a) case management systems and b) surveys of litigants, judges, attorneys, interpreters, and court personnel)? 1 Design & Planning 17
4 Monitored and evaluated the quality and availability of language services (including but not limited to: i) when and why any requested services were denied or declined, and ii) the number of complaints received and iii) whether those complaints resulted in the reversal of a denial of services or disciplinary action) within the past year (using data from, at a minimum, case management systems and surveys of litigants, judges, attorneys, translators and court personnel)? 1 Design & Planning 13
5 Provide a process for litigants to file and obtain a prompt resolution of complaints regarding language services, including the denial, unavailability of, or delay in providing such services? 5 Design & Planning 36
6 Produced within past year an annual report on the status of language services and progress toward meeting the elements of the Language Access Plan? 1 Design & Planning 12
7 Completed, in past year, an update of court procedural rules and other policies to assure compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws and executive orders concerning language access? 1 Design & Planning 13
8 Maintain an interpreter scheduling system to coordinate availability and assignment of interpreters? 1 Design & Planning 20
9 Evaluate the effectiveness of individual interpreters? 1 Design & Planning 14
10 Require training on language access services, requirements and mandates for all new judges and court staff who have contact with the public within six months of commencing work? 5 Design & Planning 19
11 Require that all judges and court staff receive training on language access services, requirements and mandates at least once in every three year period? 5 Design & Planning 10
12 Provide training on language access services and requirements through on-line (or downloadable) interactive training modules? 1 Design & Planning 13
13 Require all certified interpreters to receive at least a specified number of post-certification continuing education credits annually to maintain certification? 1 Design & Planning 28
14 Provide an on-line toolkit to allow judges and court staff to obtain assistance when language services are being provided? 1 Design & Planning 23
15 Provide bench and desk cards with standard questions to assist in evaluating a user's English fluency? 1 Design & Planning 30
16 Provide to all judges and court staff bench and desk cards describing language services available, how to access those services and the applicable rules and guidelines on providing language services? 1 Design & Planning 30
17 Provide interpreter services or the assistance of authorized bilingual staff at key points of contact in the court system other than courtrooms, including self-help centers, clerk's counters, court-annexed ADR and all court-controlled services? 5 Design & Planning 21
18 Require judges and court staff to offer, language services at the request of a party or when the judge or court staff are unable to understand the person or if the person does not appear to be fluent in English? 10 Service Delivery 42
19 Certify interpreters pursuant to a procedure consistent with a) the National Center for State Courts State Court Interpreter Testing Desk Reference Manual, or b) the ABA Standards for Language Access in Courts Standard 8? 10 Service Delivery 42
20 Identify, based on the needs assessment, which documents and signage must be translated and into which languages, to assure language access? 10 Service Delivery 23
21 Translate all documents identified as necessary (see Question 23) pursuant to a protocol that provides for quality assurance? 10 Service Delivery 20
22 Require that all documents in a specific matter be translated into the language(s) spoken by parties to that matter who have requested language assistance? 10 Service Delivery 6
23 Require certified interpreters where available for litigants, witnesses, and others with key interests (e.g., parent/guardians) who have limited English proficiency? 10 Service Delivery 37
24 Prohibit requiring payment (including fees, costs, or other expenses) for court-provided interpreters? 10 Service Delivery 28
25 Post signs that language services will be provided without charge, upon request, at all entry and major service access points and in the most common languages spoken? 5 Communicating Court Services 22
26 Provide to parties and witnesses in all cases through court forms initiating court involvement (i.e., for complaints, summons, subpoenas) specific notice in the most common languages spoken that language services will be provided upon request? 5 Communicating Court Services 4
27 Provide notice that language services will be provided without charge upon request in all brochures, publications, notices and direct written communications and in the most common languages spoken? 5 Communicating Court Services 0
28 Provide notice in commonly spoken languages at all points of electronic access that language services will be provided without charge upon request? 5 Communicating Court Services 11
29 Offer on-line video/audio answers in the most commonly spoken languages to frequently asked questions? 5 Communicating Court Services 7
30 Require court staff to provide at all points of contact with users written notice in commonly spoken languages that language services are available without charge? 1 Communicating Court Services 12
31 Offer “I speak . . .” cards in all languages identified through the needs assessment as potential user languages (NOT limited to the most common languages spoken)? 1 Communicating Court Services 33
32 Include in all notices an explanation in the most commonly spoken languages of how to file a complaint regarding the deficiency or poor quality of language services? 1 Communicating Court Services 1
33 Provide all courtrooms with remote interpreter technology? 5 Technology 12
34 Provide in each courthouse, outside the courtrooms, at least one acess point to remote interpreter technology? 5 Technology 15
35 Test bilingual staff who the court employs to offer language assistance, using validated instrument and adopted standards to ascertain fitness to provide direct language assistance to people with limited English proficiency (not interpret)? 5 Technology 10

Benchmarks by State