2012 National Summit on Language Access and the State Courts

On October 1-3, 2012, the National Summit on Language Access in the Courts was held in Houston, Texas.  The Summit was made possible by a grant from SJI and was sponsored by the CCJ, COSCA, and NCSC.  In this unprecedented collaboration, these three justice entities convened to address challenges to language access in the courts on a national scale.

The Summit achieved near complete national representation.  Almost 300 judicial leaders from 49 states, 3 territories, and the District of Columbia attended.  From each state and territory, five people including a judge, were invited to attend as “State Teams.”  This level and breadth of participation clearly demonstrated a commitment and dedication from the attendees to implement language access services in their jurisdictions and eliminate language barriers to promote access to justice in the state courts. 

The purpose of the Summit was two-fold.  It was designed to not only educate the participants, but also to facilitate a working Summit where the state teams formed action plans for immediate implementation.  First, the educational component was designed to provide vital information on the provision of language access services to the participants through the plenary sessions and workshops.

Second, the "State Team Planning" component, which was one of the hallmarks of the Summit, sought to identify the challenges faced in providing quality access services and to create effective and efficient solutions.  Each team was composed of judicial leaders, including a judge, which would identify their key challenges and formulate “action plans” for their jurisdictions to immediately implement.

The Alaska Court System’s Summit team, comprised of an Alaska Supreme Court justice, a trial court judge, the administrative director, and senior staff personnel, participated in the Summit.  We identified key steps for improving language access and  since 2012, have implemented the following: 1) revised court rules to establish the court will schedule and pay for interpreters for all case types and court services; 2) hired an interpreter services coordinator to schedule qualified interpreters for courtroom events statewide; 3) piloted an online interpreter training program for Alaska-based interpreter candidates; 4) developed resources and training for judicial officers, court staff, and attorneys; 5) initiated a program to train and qualify speakers of Alaska Native languages, and 6) implemented the technology needed to enhance video remote interpreting services.

"We are thankful to the State Judicial Institute and the National Center’s Language Access Services Section for hosting the Summit and for their continued support in improving language access services in state courts."

Brenda Aiken, Resource Development Officer/Language Services Director Alaska Court System

Pre-Summit Assessment

A great deal of thought and detailed preparation went into the planning of every aspect of the Summit so that it would yield actual results and impact language services in a meaningful way.

Prior to the Summit, NCSC distributed a pre-Summit assessment tool to state courts in each jurisdiction throughout the United States, the territories, and the District of Columbia.  One of the primary purposes of the assessment was to identify the key issues to be included on the Summit agenda and to outline the overall goals of the event.   The other key reason for the assessment was to prepare the “State Team” members, who would be attending the Summit, in the development of their “action plans.” 

The pre-Summit assessment included questions pertaining to the following key areas involving language access in the courts:  a) the frequency of need for language access; b) the most frequently requested languages; c) data collection; d) training for interpreters; e) training for court staff; f) funding; g) notice of available services; h) credentialing; i) remote interpreting; and j) possible national initiatives to benefit jurisdictions.  The results of the assessment provided a comprehensive overview of the needs and issues in each jurisdiction.  Thus, the results served as a basis for the topic areas addressed at the Summit and informed the 9 Action Steps from the Call to Action.

Summit Agenda

The Summit agenda was designed to engage full participation of each attendee in seeking solutions and creating action plans.  The agenda was divided into three primary sections: plenary sessions, workshops, and “state team planning” exercises.  The plenary sessions provided essential background information.  The workshops promoted the exchange of information and ideas between participants.  Finally, the “State Team” planning exercises facilitated the identification of priorities and the development of action plans.

Plenary Sessions & Workshops

During the plenary sessions, presenters detailed three overarching areas that were most critical to guiding participants in implementing improvements in their jurisdictions.  The three plenary sessions presented at the Summit were Understanding the Legal Context; Essential Components of a Language Access Plan (LAP); and Remote Interpreting: A Business Solution.

While the plenary sessions presented vital information, the workshops provided a forum to exchange ideas.  Experts in language access services lead a series of 13 workshops, where participants engaged in in-depth discussions with their colleagues and facilitators.  They shared common challenges and issues.  Also, participants discussed the effective steps that they had taken and analyzed potential solutions.

The workshops presented at the Summit included:

  • Strengthening a Language Access Plan
  • Collaborative Approaches
  • Developing Interpreter Resources and Credentialing Program
  • Addressing the Immigrations Status, Culture, and Language Connections in Planning
  • Management of Remote Interpreting Technology
  • Training Judges and Court Personnel
  • Planning for Technology Projects
  • Training Interpreters
  • Translation of Documents
  • Data Collection and Analysis
  • Managing Interpreter Staff and Contractors
  • Providing Services Outside of the Courtroom
  • Funding and Authorization for Interpreter Programs

State Team Planning and Action Plans

The state team planning component of the Summit was designed to facilitate the creation of action plans for each jurisdiction.  The five members of each state, territory, and D.C., were invited to attend the Summit as a team in order to take this exercise beyond mere concept. 

In the first portion of the state team exercises, the participants identified the priorities that were vital to providing quality language access service to the LEP population in their jurisdictions.  The top priorities areas included:

  • Training judges;
  • Identifying the need for language access;
  • Utilizing remote interpreting technology;
  • Oversight and establishing language access plans;
  • Translating forms and documents;
  • Providing notification on provision of services/signage;
  • Monitoring /evaluating the program and interpreters;
  • Ensuring qualified interpreters and certification; and
  • Reviewing compliance with legal requirements.

Based on the priority areas they identified, the state teams developed action plans.  These action plans included specific detailed steps that the teams would implement in their jurisdictions to improve language access services.  The teams identified the entity responsible for executing the plan, potential barriers, possible solutions, and completion dates by which they would address each of their priorities.  There has been significant positive feedback on the impact of the Summit, in particular, the state team planning exercises, where the team planning component yielded actual plans that were implemented and lead to significant improvements.

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