About the Justice Index

Introduction
I.         Scope of the Justice Index
II.        Guiding Principles
III.       Findings
IV.       Teams & Stakeholders
Conclusion 

 

 

 

Introduction

The Justice Index is an online, data-intensive, ranking system created by the National Center for Access to Justice in 2014. Justice Index findings promote policies that enable people who need the help of state courts to gain access and get fair treatment, even if they can’t afford a lawyer.

The Justice Index ranks the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico on their adoption of selected best policies for ensuring access to justice. In doing so, it raises the profile of these policies, shows where they have and have not been adopted, and helps push for their replication and implementation.

In its 2021 edition, the Justice Index ranks states on five categories of access to justice policies: access to an attorney, self-representation, language access, disability access, and fines and fees. Within the attorney access category, the Justice Index also includes a count of civil legal aid attorneys in the United States.  

A Composite Index, included in the Justice Index, shows the state rankings based on the combined findings from the traditional four Justice Index categories: attorney access, self-representation, language access, and disability access. An alternative visualization of the Composite Index ranks the states based on the combined findings from all five categories, including fines & fees.

In this section, we describe the scope of the Justice Index, the principles that guide the Justice Index, highlights from the Justice Index findings, and the sources of support for the Justice Index. (In Methodology, we describe how the work was done to create Justice Index 2021).

 

 

 

I.       Scope of the Justice Index

The Justice Index 2021 covers five categories of laws, rules, and practices that are essential to assuring access to justice in state justice systems: attorney access, self-representation access, language access, disability access, and fines and fees.

A.        Attorney Access. Access to a lawyer is often essential to people to protect their rights under the law and avoid serious hardship. For people of modest means, paid counsel is simply out of reach in civil legal matters. This is true even in very high stakes cases that risk the loss of people’s homes, children, savings, physical and emotional safety, and more.

The Justice Index is the only source of data on the number of civil legal aid lawyers in organizations in the United States that do not receive funding from the federally supported Legal Services Corporation (“non-LSC” civil legal aid organizations). By tracking and comparing the number of civil legal aid lawyers and civil legal aid organizations in each state, the Justice Index equips officials, activists, researchers and members of the public to understand and champion the importance of civil legal aid for people with unmet legal needs.

In addition to the number of civil legal aid lawyers, Justice Index 2021 also tracks 25 attorney access policies that every state should adopt to ensure that people are able to get help from a lawyer when one is needed. We then look at every US state to determine how many of the selected policies they have in place.

B.        Self-Representation Access. Nationwide, as many as two-thirds of all litigants appear without lawyers. This includes important legal matters like evictions, mortgage foreclosures, debt collection cases, and child custody proceedings. Too often, these self-represented litigants experience the courts as bewildering and hostile places that offer little hope of a fair “day in court.” Many courts are built on a paradigm that assumes every party is represented by a lawyer – even when their dockets are overwhelmingly populated by people who are trying to navigate the system alone. Making courts user-friendly for self-represented litigants is imperative if we are to keep the promise of equal justice for all. People should have access to legal help when they need it – but they should also be able to access a fair hearing when they appear in court without a lawyer. NCAJ has identified 56 policies that every state should adopt to make equal justice accessible to self-represented litigants. We then look at every US state to determine how many of these policies they actually have in place. 

C.        Language Access. More than 25 million people in the United States have limited English proficiency. For these litigants understanding what happens in a courtroom can be particularly difficult. Some 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 every state should adopt to ensure language access in the justice system. We then look at every US state to determine how many of these policies they actually have in place.

D.        Disability Access. For people with disabilities, meaningful access to justice can be even more challenging than it is for others. Often, it depends on support and accommodation from the justice system. NCAJ identified 29 policies that every state should adopt to ensure access to justice for people with disabilities. We then look at every US state to determine how many of these policies they have in place.

E.        Fines and Fees. US state and local governments use monetary fines to punish an extraordinary range of crimes, misdemeanors and other violations. And those punishments are often heavy-handed. Instead of serving as a relatively gentle accountability mechanism for minor offenses, fines have become a powerful engine of economic and racial oppression. Across the country, state and local governments impose exorbitant fines defendants cannot afford. Later, they lock the same people up for “failing” to pay. Courts routinely impose predatory and abusive user fees on top of fines—charging people for the costs of their own prosecution, their own legal defense, even their own incarceration. Many officials have come to see fines and fees revenue as a politically expedient alternative to taxation, putting pressure on local courts to focus on extracting revenue from disadvantaged people instead of on doing justice. NCAJ has identified a set of 17 policies every state should have in place to rein in these abuses. We then determine how many of these policies each state actually has in place. 

 

 

 

II.     Guiding Principles

The Justice Index is a valuable resource for expanding access to justice. It is used by activists, advocates, scholars, reporters, donor organizations, government officials and members of the public. A set of principles underlie its creation and guide its use:

 

A.        The Justice Index seeks to expand access to justice. Life in the modern world is deeply intertwined with law. The ability to access the court system and assert one’s rights can make the difference in preserving a home, keeping a family together, defending one’s life savings, keeping a job, and more. Access to justice means having a fair chance to be heard in a court or other forum that can help find a solution to the problem you face, regardless of who you are, where you live, or how much money you have. Access to justice means that, at a minimum, a person should be able to learn about her rights and then give effective voice to them in a neutral and nondiscriminatory, formal or informal, process that determines the facts, applies the fair rule of law, reaches a resolution, and enforces the result.

 

B.        The Justice Index highlights policies that are statewide. The Justice Index tracks and highlights statewide laws, rules, and practices, as contrasted with those that are local within the state. While local policies are important, the Justice Index prioritizes statewide approaches because their broader scope makes it likelier they will result in equal treatment of people similarly situated across the state, and also increases the accountability of officials charged with their implementation and enforcement.

A number of states operate with decentralized courts that do not have a statewide administrative structure. It is challenging for these decentralized systems to gather evidence that local laws, rules and practices are in place across the state. As a result, states with decentralized courts often score less well on Justice Index benchmarks. Justice Index findings in decentralized states do not indicate that an identified policy is not in place anywhere in the state, only that it is not in place statewide. The treatment of decentralized states reflects our judgment that access to justice rights should be in place for all, everywhere, and that measurement and accountability are necessary to ensure universal access.

 

C.        The Justice Index is an ongoing and evolving tool. The access to justice movement is dynamic and has grown tremendously since NCAJ created the Justice Index in 2014. Research on best practices, experience with programs to expand access, and the integration of diverse viewpoints and talents, have together helped to increase our understanding of the policies, practices and procedures that are important for supporting access to justice.

The Justice Index benchmarks have changed over the years to reflect the growth in the field and to remain ambitious. Our consistent goal is to ensure that the Justice Index reflects the best and most current thinking on what court systems and state governments should do, now and going forward, to assure access for everyone. The Justice Index is a snapshot of the state of the art in access to justice. The ongoing engagement of court officials, attorneys, advocates and researchers on how best to measure access to justice is critical to advancing good policies across the country, and is also important in making the Justice Index the most useful tool it can be. NCAJ welcomes communication as it works to expand the Justice Index, refine its analysis, and develop strategies to guide research.

 

D.         The Justice Index Allows for Longitudinal Research, With Important Limiting Factors. It is possible and interesting to compare Justice Index figures over time, however research of this nature must proceed cautiously, in light of the following factors: i) some benchmarks have been added and others removed (for the reasons outlined above); ii) some benchmarks that remained essentially the same have been edited to improve clarity; iii) some research methodologies have been changed (e.g., a more comprehensive approach to counting civil legal aid lawyers in 2021 may have contributed to an increase in the final count in 2021, as compared to 2014 and 2016); and iv) a small number of errors in the original Justice Index 2016 have now been corrected in the archived version of the 2016 Justice Index. NCAJ welcomes communications from all who are interested in research involving the Justice Index.

           

E.        The Justice Index relies on indexing to promote understanding and improvement. Court systems and legal regimes are complex, employing thousands of people, handling millions of cases and applying statutes ranging from traffic laws, to housing, to family laws, to debt collection and many, many more. “Indexing” is a powerful tool that highlights benchmarks as a means of enabling people to understand and improve systems that if considered as a whole would be too difficult to readily understand. Index tools are used improve complex institutions and functions in many sectors of society, and the Justice Index was inspired in part by The Democracy Index: Why Our Election System Is Failing and How to Fix It (2009), by Heather K. Gerkin, Yale Law Professor, now Dean of Yale Law School, that makes the case for indexing as a means of securing voting reform (a model effectuated in the Elections Performance Index).

 

F.        The Justice Index highlights selected best laws, rules and practices in state justice systems. The Justice Index highlights selected best laws, rules and practices which serve as indicators of one aspect of the well-being of state justice systems. The primary focus of these indicators – or benchmarks – is on the policy landscape that has been established in and around state justice systems. Each benchmark is an essential element of policy-making for access to justice, but the set of benchmarks is not encyclopedic. Rather, it is the opposite: a relatively small number of important data points that allows users to form a responsible judgment about the well-being of the whole.

Indeed, the Justice Index does not track many categories of policy, nor many specific policies within them. For example, the Justice Index does not track housing law generally, nor such important specific housing laws as those that bar landlords from changing locks on tenants’ doors. We believe the Justice Index covers important and indicative policies, but we recognize that its formation and its evaluative mechanism involve judgment calls and there are experts who will disagree with some of NCAJ’s decisions. However, we believe the vast majority of experts will agree that the benchmarks included in the Justice Index are valuable to assuring access to justice.

Because the Justice Index tracks selected policies, it sets forth in some instances explanatory notes about other policies adopted in some states that do not match Justice Index benchmarks but that we believe will be of interest to the public. These policies are denoted by a finding of “No*” in the Justice Index data set. If you believe that there are key benchmarks that should be included in the Justice Index that currently are not, or if you believe a state has scored better (or more poorly) than it should, NCAJ invites communication as to why. Please email NCAJ at info@ncforaj.org.

 

G.         The Justice Index focuses on policy, not implementation or outcomes. The Justice Index shows which states have adopted selected best policies for assuring access to justice. An important goal of the Justice Index is to establish and promote policy norms for state justice systems. The Justice Index findings empower members of the public, government officials, members of the bar, and other stakeholders (potentially you, the reader) to hold state officials accountable to the state’s claimed policies and also to persuade state officials to adopt additional best policies that are contained in the Justice Index but not yet a part of the state’s policy landscape. The Justice Index also facilitates research by scholars, including on such important questions as whether selected laws, rules and practices have been implemented, and whether they are effective in influencing outcomes. Implementation and effectiveness are important areas of study, and many organizations and individuals are carrying out research efforts to study them.

 

H.        The Justice Index is a resource for practical changes in your state. Whether you are seeking to hold your state accountable for implementing the policies it has in place or pressing for your state to adopt policies long ago embraced by others, the findings in the Justice Index offer insights unavailable anywhere else. Our state justice systems are working hard to deliver justice, often under difficult circumstances. The Justice Index can help. You, your court, or your organization, can use the Justice Index to advocate for better and more effective state justice systems. Justice Index  2014 and Justice Index 2016 have been used in the states to help support creation of an Access to Justice Commission, to help support hiring of a new staff person to coordinate self-representation initiatives in the state courts, to eliminate a rule that had afforded discretion to trial court judges to charge parties for the cost of language interpreting services, and to secure an increased allocation of state funds to support civil legal aid in the state.

 

I.        The Justice Index also drives change by driving debate. The Justice Index is not just about the findings. It’s also about the debate over the selection of the benchmarked policies, the degree to which the policies are implemented in the states, the degree to which the policies are effective in accomplishing their goals, the question of whether newer and different policies surpass them, and more. As NCAJ and its partners plan subsequent installments of the Justice Index, we seek your input via email to info@ncforaj.org. What policies in your state should be incorporated in the Justice Index going forward? What methodological refinements are critical? What do you believe are the essential benchmarks for monitoring the health of state justice systems? Access to justice is important to every one of us. It is part of a duty we all owe to each other as members of our communities, our states, and our nation. The Justice Index helps us understand whether we are making good on our common obligation to ensure that the rule of law is not only enforced, but that it is just.

 

J.        NCAJ, alone, is responsible for the Justice Index, and grateful to many contributors. NCAJ alone is responsible for the findings in the Justice Index. Many state court officials were generous with their time and knowledge in helping NCAJ collect data and understand their state’s access to justice efforts. The Justice Index is a far better picture of access to justice because of the support of court officials. NCAJ cannot thank enough the many people who helped, especially as the research was conducted amid the extraordinary burdens imposed by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The lawyers and others who volunteered their time to conduct the research were equally invaluable and NCAJ is indebted to them. NCAJ is also indebted to certain organizations whose expert support, and independent research findings were useful resources for Justice Index researchers, as we describe in greater detail below. But all final findings were made by NCAJ. There are instances in every state in which NCAJ’s final judgment differed from the assertion by state officials as to whether a benchmark was satisfied. The fact that a state participated in the research is not and should not be taken as the state agreeing to or approving the final decision of NCAJ. NCAJ is solely responsible for selecting the benchmarks, designing the research process, making final findings, and producing scores and rankings.

 

 

 

III.   Findings
 

The Justice Index uses data visualizations that offer the best way to review the findings. We encourage everyone to view the data in context in those visualizations. We offer below a description of a small set of highlights to provide perspective to visitors new to the Justice Index:

Attorney Access Findings. The overall scores for the states ranged from a low for South Dakota at 21.20 to a high for New York at 65.95, out of a possible 100. (Puerto Rico and Washington, DC had the lowest and highest scores, respectively, of all jurisdictions at 9.35 and 81.00). Two benchmarks tied for status as most adopted – all 52 jurisdictions now “Recognize a right to counsel in involuntary mental health commitment cases” and also “Count and publish, by case type, the number of cases filed each year.” At the other end of the spectrum, zero states “Recognize a right to counsel for low-income tenants in eviction cases” and zero also “Collect data … in … civil cases in which the state provides discretion to a decision-maker to decide whether to appoint counsel.”

With respect to the Civil Legal Aid Attorney Count, the states' scores ranged from a low in South Carolina of .44 civil legal aid attorneys per 10,000 people with low incomes, to a high in New York of 4.39 civil legal aid attorneys per 10,000 people with low incomes. Key findings for the states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico show 705 total civil legal aid organizations (129 LSC civil legal aid organizations and 576 non-LSC civil legal aid organizations) and 10,479 individual civil legal aid attorneys (5,629 LSC civil legal aid attorneys and 4,850 non-LSC civil legal aid attorneys). We found that 24 states and Puerto Rico had fewer than 1 civil legal aid attorney per 10,000 people below 200% of poverty. Only 6 states (plus Washington, DC) had more than 2 civil legal aid attorneys per 10,000 people below 200% of poverty. This stands in contrast to the much larger number of all practicing attorneys- the national average there is approximately 40 attorneys per 10,000 people in the general population.

Self-Representation Findings. The state scores ranged from a low for Rhode Island at 5.12 to a high for California at 91.6, out of a possible 100. The benchmark adopted by the most states – across 47 jurisdictions – was “Maintain on the state judiciary website a single, easily located page that provides SRLs with links to all required forms . . . and identify all required supporting materials for all critical litigation steps . . . for a domestic violence victim to obtain an order of protection. At the other end of the spectrum, zero states have adopted the benchmark policy “Maintain computer-based document assembly self-help programs to assist litigants in the following types of actions: Defense of mortgage and tax foreclosure actions.”

Language Access Findings. The scores ranged from a low for South Dakota at 11.32 to a high for New Mexico at 89.31, out of a possible 100. The two most widely-adopted benchmarks – across 42 jurisdictions each – were “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” and “Certify interpreters.” At the other end of the spectrum, only one state has adopted the benchmark policy that calls for including “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” and zero states have adopted the benchmark policy that calls for “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.”

Disability Access Findings. The states’ scores ranged from a low for South Dakota at 5 to a high for Connecticut and Hawaii, tied at 62.5 out of a possible 100. The policy adopted by the most states, 47, was “Provide sign language services at no cost to the litigant, when requested by a litigant with hearing impairment or otherwise deemed necessary by the court.” At the other end of the spectrum, no states had adopted the benchmark policy that calls for states to “Collect and publish data on the number, type, and resolution of disability access complaints, including Americans with Disabilities Act & Section 504 complaints” nor have any states adopted the policy that calls for “Where courts provide childcare services, ensure that childcare staff trained in working with children with disabilities are available when needed to allow a litigant who is a parent or care-taker of such child to access court services.”

Fines & Fees Findings. The states’ scores ranged from a low for Wyoming at 3 to a high for Washington at 54, out of a possible 100. The policy adopted by the most states, 23, was “The state has codified a right to counsel in all proceedings where a person faces possible incarceration for failure to pay fines, fees, surcharges and assessments.” At the other end of the spectrum, no states had adopted the benchmark policy that asks whether “The state has abolished all fees, costs, surcharges and assessments in all matters involving a violation of law. This includes but is not limited to charges for: i) appointed counsel; ii) probation or parole supervision; iii) electronic monitoring; iv) diversion programs; v) services such as treatment and drug testing; and vi) costs of incarceration including room, board and health care.”

Composite Index Findings. In the Composite Index that is based on the four traditional Justice Index categories of attorney access, self-representation, language access, and disability access, the top ranked state was Maryland at 64.68 (the District of Columbia, a densely populated district, distinct in this respect from the states, received the overall top score at 64.80) and the last ranked state was South Dakota at 11.36. In the Composite Index containing the four traditional Justice Index categories plus Fines and Fees, the top ranked state was Massachusetts at 59.37 and the bottom ranked state was South Dakota at 13.69.

 

 

 

IV.    Teams & Stakeholders

To build Justice Index 2021, NCAJ relied on teams of volunteers, engaged state justice system officials in dialogue, consulted with subject matter experts, and enlisted many other sources of support.

 

A.        Pro Bono Teams. An enormous pro bono initiative created Justice Index 2021. See Methodology for a discussion of the activities involved in this effort. The participants are identified below:

Law firms. Eight law firms supported Justice Index 2021. Six of these firms -- DLA Piper, Kirkland & Ellis, Latham & Watkins, Morgan Lewis, O’Melveny & Myers, Simpson Thacher -- worked with NCAJ to research the findings for the four traditional Justice Index policy categories of attorney access, self-representation, language access, and disability access. DLA Piper also participated with NCAJ and its other partners to create the Civil Legal Aid Attorney Count. Strook & Strook carried out the initial research to test the viability of the fines and fees policy benchmark formulations. Hughes Hubbard conducted the original legal research to establish the fines and fees findings in all the states. Dozens of attorneys and many law firm staff participated in the Justice Index 2021 Research Initiative.

Corporations. Two corporations, Deloitte and Pfizer, joined forces by attorneys and staff at DLA Piper, carried out the research that supported the Civil Legal Aid Attorney Count.

National Organizations. The Justice Index 2021attributes all findings to cited sources, however NCAJ wishes additionally to recognize and thank the following institutions and organizations for their contributions to the field that served as resources to the Justice Index 2021 Research Initiative: the American Bar Association, Fines & Fees Justice Center, Legal Services Corporation, National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and the Pro bono Institute.

Law School and Undergraduate Students. The Justice Index 2021 Research Initiative was supported by students in Fordham Law School, and also benefited from participation by law students and undergraduates participating internship programs with Pfizer, DLA Piper and the other pro bono partners.

 

B.        Court Officials and Justice System Supporters. NCAJ recognizes the hard work contributed to the Justice Index initiative by court officials, legal aid leaders, Access to Justice Commission leaders, bar leaders, IOLTA leaders, and many other justice system stakeholders. NCAJ has been privileged to participate in a very extensive dialogue about the Justice Index benchmarks and the Justice Index findings with justice system officials across the country. We see and respect the dedicated work that is being done in courts, legal aid organizations, and many other institutions, often with resources that are stretched and tested, in their efforts to assure access to justice for those who are vulnerable in our country.

C.        Financial Supporters. NCAJ is enormously grateful to its broad and growing group of individual benefactors, law firm supporters, private sector corporate contributors who support the Justice Index through their contributions, and helping to sustain our work to increase access to justice. Support for the project from Arnold Ventures, the Gimbel Foundation, and the Open Society Foundation was essential in helping to create, strengthen and expand the Justice Index.

E.        Consultant Experts. NCAJ is grateful to the many experts who consulted to NCAJ on a volunteer basis to help NCAJ develop and refine the policy benchmarks, and is also appreciates that some organizations developed data sets that were valuable to Justice Index 2021 researchers when carrying out the research to support the findings in the Justice Index.

 

1) Attorney Access Benchmarks

Civil Right to Counsel Benchmarks: NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of civil right to counsel benchmarks with two leaders of the civil right to counsel movement, John Pollock, Executive Director, National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, and Russell Engler, Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Legal Programs, New England Law | Boston, and also consulted with the Steering Committee of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel of the Choices (NCAJ’s executive director, David Udell, is a member of the Committee). Justice Index 2021 researchers also relied on the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel’s “Status Map” as a valuable resource when carrying out research for Justice Index 2021.

Pro Bono Policy Benchmarks. NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of pro bono benchmarks with Eve Runyon, President and CEO of the Pro Bono Institute, Cheryl Zalenski, Counsel, Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, American Bar Association, and Latonia Haney Keith, then the Associate Dean of Academics, Concordia University School of Law. Professor Keith also authored a law review paper on the subject of Justice Index criteria for tracking and promoting pro bono. NCAJ also co-led (with these experts) attendees at sessions of the Equal Justice Conference jointly hosted by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and the American Bar Association in discussion about ideas and opinions on the pro bono policies to include the Justice Index. Justice Index 2021 researchers also relied on the Pro Bono Institute’s Corporate Pro Bono report, and on sources at the American Bar Association’s website as valuable resources when carrying out research for Justice Index 2021.

Additional Attorney Access Policy Benchmarks. NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of attorney access policy benchmarks with the following experts Sandra McAlister Ambrozy, Former Senior Fellow, Civil Legal Justice, The Kresge Foundation; Martha Bergmark, Executive Director, Voices for Civil Justice; April Faith-Slaker, Associate Director of Research Innovations, Access to Justice Lab, Harvard Law School; Danielle Hirsch, Principal Court Management Consultant, National Center for State Courts; Alan W. Houseman, President, Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library; Karen A. Lash, Practitioner-in-Residence, American University Justice Programs Office; and, Lauren Sudeall, Associate Professor and Faculty Director of Center for Access to Justice, Georgia State University College of Law.

Civil Legal Aid Attorney Count Benchmarks. The Justice Index counts the number of the civil legal aid attorneys in the United States, and also the corporate identity of the organizations whose attorneys are counted. In considering the formulation of a definition of civil legal aid lawyer and civil legal aid organization, in creating a database from previously developed databases, and in determining how best to connect with civil legal aid organizations through the use of a survey instrument and other approaches, NCAJ consulted with Shubi Deoras, Counsel/Director, Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives, American Bar Association; April Faith-Slaker, Associate Director of Research Innovations, Access to Justice Lab, Harvard Law School; Carlos Manjarrez, Chief Data Officer, Office of Data Governance and Analysis, Legal Services Corporation; Don Saunders, Senior Vice President, Policy, National Legal Aid & Defender Association; Jason T. Vail, Director, Division for Legal Services, Chief Counsel, Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense, American Bar Association.

 

2) Self-Representation Access Benchmarks. The Justice Index tracks 56 self-representation policies that include Access to Justice Commissions, plain language requirements, the use of common forms, options to waive filing fees. NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of the self-representation access benchmarks with: Katherine Alteneder, Executive Director, Self-Represented Litigants Network; Sandra McAlister Ambrozy, Former Senior Fellow, Civil Legal Justice, The Kresge Foundation; Martha Bergmark, Executive Director, Voices for Civil Justice; April Faith-Slaker, Associate Director of Research Innovations, Access to Justice Lab, Harvard Law School; Danielle Hirsch, Principal Court Management Consultant, National Center for State Courts; Claudia Johnson, Program Manager, Law Help Interactive, Pro Bono Net; Karen A. Lash, Practitioner-in-Residence, American University Justice Programs Office; Lauren Sudeall, Associate Professor and Faculty Director of Center for Access to Justice, Georgia State University College of Law; Margaret Hagan, Director of Stanford Legal Design Lab.

 

3) Language Access Benchmarks. The Justice Index tracks 35 language access policies that include a guarantee of free interpreting services, the use of certified interpreters where available, translation of court forms into commonly used languages, and notice of free interpreting services at all points of contact with the public. NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of the language access benchmarks with: Sandra McAlister Ambrozy, Former Senior Fellow, Civil Legal Justice, The Kresge Foundation; Gillian Dutton, Associate Professor of Lawyering Skills, Seattle University School of Law; April Faith-Slaker, Associate Director of Research Innovations, Access to Justice Lab, Harvard Law School; Danielle Hirsch, Principal Court Management Consultant, National Center for State Courts; Lauren Sudeall, Associate Professor and Faculty Director of Center for Access to Justice, Georgia State University College of Law.

 

4) Disability Access Benchmarks. The Justice Index tracks 29 disability access policies that include creation of a strategic disability access plan, provision of sign language interpreting services without charge, preferential use of certified interpreters, training for judges and court staff on working with people with disabilities, and access for service animals without prior approval. NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of the disability access benchmarks with: Ruth Lowenkron and Maureen Belluscio, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; Sandra McAlister Ambrozy, Former Senior Fellow, Civil Legal Justice, The Kresge Foundation; Kevin M. Cremin, Director of Litigation for Disability and Aging Rights, Mobilization for Justice, Inc.; Bruce J. Gitlin, Executive Director, New York Center for Law and Justice; Danielle Elyce Hirsch, Principal Court Management Consultant, National Center for State Courts; Carla Villarreal López, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation International Policy Fellow, supporting the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

 

5) Fines & Fees. The Justice Index tracks 17 primary benchmarks, and 43 secondary benchmarks, examining whether states have abolished “user fees,” limited recovery of fines to what a person is able to afford, eliminated suspensions of drivers' licenses and voting rights for failure to pay, adopted policies for data collection and transparency, and reduced the burdens imposed by fines and fees practices during the pandemic. NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of the fines and fees benchmarks with 19 experts and activists, 18 of whom agreed to be identified here, as follows: Samuel Brooke, Deputy Legal Director, Economic Justice Project, Southern Poverty Law Center; Nusrat Choudhury, Legal Director, ACLU-Illinois; Beth Colgan, Professor of Law, UCLA Law School; Jessica Feierman, Senior Managing Director, Juvenile Law Center; Lisa Foster, Co-Director, Fines and Fees Justice Center; Sarah Geraghty, Managing Attorney, Impact Litigation, Southern Center for Human Rights; Beth Huebner, Professor, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Missouri-St. Louis; Juliene James, Director of Criminal Justice, Arnold Ventures; Matt Menendez, Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice; Mitali Nagrecha, Director, National Criminal Justice Debt Initiative, Harvard Law School Criminal Justice Policy Program; Adeola Ogunkeyede, Legal Director, Civil Rights and Racial Justice Program, Justice and Legal Aid Center; Ricard Pochkhanawala, formerly Research Attorney, Institute for Justice; Jeff Selbin, Clinical Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Policy Advocacy Clinic, UC Berkeley Law School; Abby Shafroth, Attorney, National Consumer Law Center; Anne Stuhldreher, Director, The Financial Justice Project, Office of the Treasurer for the City and County of San Francisco; Jo-Ann Wallace, President and CEO, National Legal Aid and Defender Association; Joanna Weiss, Co-Director, Fines and Fees Justice Center; Carson Whitelemons, Criminal Justice Manager, Arnold Ventures.

 

 

 

Conclusion

We hope this About the Justice Index presentation helps visitors to the Justice Index understand the scope, principles, contributors, and other essential elements of the Justice Index. Please also see Methodology for more on the research strategies and activities leading to the creation of the Justice Index. Justice Index 2021 was created during the height of the Covid 19 pandemic which disrupted lives, created challenges for all of our research team volunteers, and posed unique burdens to the courts and other justice system stakeholders across the country who were responding to our research surveys with their answers. The work on Justice Index 2021 was made more difficult but also took on greater importance as it became clear to all that the constraints imposed by the pandemic would not only present new legal problems in people’s lives but would also place new financial, practical, and emotional pressures on people in the institutions responsible for assuring access to justice. At NCAJ, we are grateful to all who were able to help contribute to Justice Index 2021, with its capacity to help increase access to justice for all.