New tool to help state courts address backlogs

New tool to help state courts address backlogs

caseload filesIdentifying where cases are getting backlogged may seem like an impossible task, especially as new filings continue to enter the system. But NCSC will soon launch a tool to help courts identify, measure and reduce case backlogs.

The backlog reduction simulator, which is scheduled to launch this spring, helps courts identify the number and types of pending cases while also projecting potential backlogs with and without interventions.

Backlogs were not uncommon before the coronavirus pandemic, but it has exacerbated them, especially in criminal courts, where it has become difficult to safely empanel juries and the rate of plea agreements has slowed.

Funded by the State Justice Institute, the backlog reduction simulator is designed to help all courts – criminal, civil, family and problem-solving -- said Nora Sydow, the NCSC principal court management consultant who is overseeing the tool’s development.

“The closures and reduced trial capacity resulting from the pandemic, the surge in cases resulting from the accompanying economic shock, and the increase in family violence and mental health arising from the stress caused by both have generated significant case backlogs in many jurisdictions,” Sydow said. “We wanted to build a tool that would help courts explore the potential benefits of different backlog reduction interventions. We also wanted to build a tool that would have strong data viz capabilities so courts could effectively share with court partners and funding bodies.”

To help quantify the future caseload impact of potential backlog reduction interventions, the simulator creates projections based on the following data:

  • Number of active pending cases,
  • Number of monthly filings and dispositions, and
  • Number of typical active pending cases.

Other factors such as estimated clearance rates, time standards and the number of cases disposed of in the last year may also be considered.

The simulator results can help courts identify trouble spots and provide a starting point for troubleshooting. Interventions may range from additional bench time to hearing notice reminders, depending on where the backlog is occurring.

Over the past few months, NCSC staff has piloted the tool with several jurisdictions and has received feedback from some of those who saw a presentation of it at CTC 2021. And NCSC consultants will help courts use the tool following its official launch this spring.

“The tool is future-looking,” Sydow said. “It’s very exciting.”

For more information, email Sydow at

Sign up to receive rural justice news

The newly created Rural Justice Collaborative has just launched Rural Justice Digest, a newsletter that offers news and information about rural justice and state courts.

The collaborative, an initiative of 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.

Be sure to sign up for the newsletter, which will be published every other month.