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A look at pandemic backlog in court proceedings and resources

December 15, 2021

By Alyssa Nekritz

About one third of U.S. courts saw an increase of over 5% in backlogs. This increase would have been larger had courts not adapted quickly to online operations. Several types of court proceedings, particularly trials, were delayed. Some court professionals are optimistic that the existing backlogs will be resolved quickly. Others are worried backlogs will continue.

In order to avert for a growing backlog, some states have or are dropping non-violent criminal cases when courts reopen . Other prosecutors are prioritizing repeat offenders. Although it is important for the court system to manage the cases timely, there are staunch critics who believe dismissal is a bad idea. Critics argue adjournments and the associated delay can create access to justice concerns, placing courts in a tough position.

Other state courts, like Florida and Washington, have requested more retired judges to assist pulled judges out of retirement and temporarily increased staffing to help with backlogs. Some jurisdictions continue to look for effective ways of addressing their backlogs.

NCSC’s Effective Criminal Case Management Project conducted extensive data collection on felony and misdemeanor cases. The project built resources on case flow management to help courts process cases efficiently.

Courts continue to innovate and NCSC is tracking pandemic related backlogs. More data will be necessary to draw conclusions about future impacts. Revisit the 2020 CCJ/COSCA Pandemic Backlog Report for more resources on dealing with a surge in civil cases. Additionally, courts can access the ECCM’s Cost of Delay Calculator (PDF and Excel) to compute a simple estimate revealing how quickly and significantly the costs of delay accumulate across a court.

How have your state courts prepared or prevented backlogs? Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Vimeo.

For more information, contact or call 800-616-6164.