Working to make rural justice a reality

atc template


Working to make rural justice a reality

Texas has 93,000 lawyers -- the third most of any state -- but six of its counties have no lawyers at all. Nationwide 54 counties have no lawyers, and another 182 have only one or two, according to a recent American Bar Association report. These legal deserts, as they’re called, have at least two things in common: They hinder access to justice for all, and they exist only in rural areas, in states as diverse as Oregon, Georgia, South Dakota and California.

The recently created Rural Justice Collaborative (RJC), an initiative run by NCSC and Rulo Strategies, is calling attention to the challenges that people in rural areas face getting access to legal help, behavioral health treatment and job training, among other services.

RJC wants to hear about successful programs and initiatives in rural communities that address gaps in services in one of the following seven areas, and it is accepting nominations until July 15.

  • Increasing access to behavioral health treatment. Rural communities have been disproportionately impacted by certain behavioral health issues, most notably the opioid epidemic. Between 1999 and 2015, drug overdose deaths occurred more often per capita in rural communities than in cities, but treatment services are less common in less populous areas.
  • Reducing victimization. Domestic abuse is a nationwide problem, and the distance to hospitals and the lack of public transportation in rural areas makes it difficult, if not impossible, to receive emergency healthcare.
  • Facilitating employment and educational opportunities. The scarcity or lack of public transportation in rural areas also makes it difficult for people there to take advantage of opportunities to get a job or go back to school.
  • Eliminating barriers of access to justice. Nearly 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas but only two percent of the nation’s law firms are located there or serve those areas. These legal deserts create disparities in access to justice.
  • Reducing incarceration and recidivism. The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation, and incarceration rates and jail admissions in rural communities have outpaced those in metropolitan areas.
  • Facilitating re-entry. Formerly incarcerated people in rural areas find it more difficult to successfully re-enter their communities because there aren’t enough jobs, places to live, public transportation and re-entry programs.
  • Reducing foster care placements due to parental substance use. The rate of child removals attributable to parental substance use has nearly doubled from 2000 (18.5 percent) to 2019 (34 percent). Children in rural areas face a greater risk of being placed into kinship care or foster care than do children in populous counties and cities.

“We want to provide justice systems in rural communities an opportunity to spotlight what’s working and create a network to support their growth in positive outcomes,” said Kristina Bryant, a principal court management consultant who is leading this effort for NCSC. “We believe this includes recognition of their strengths and the unique characteristics of small towns.”

The Rural Justice Collaborative is funded by the State Justice Institute.

Caseflow Management: The Next Generation

Join NCSC’s Research Division for its first of a series of webinars, "Caseflow Management: The Next Generation," at 10:30 am ET on Wednesday, July 7. Panelists will explore the future of caseflow management. Register here.