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New study to engage underserved communities, explore post-pandemic access to justice

New study to engage underserved communities, explore post-pandemic access to justice

Community engagement and insights will be the focus of a new NCSC study designed to expand our understanding of post-pandemic access to justice, racial justice, and systemic change.

Over the next 18 months, NCSC will work directly with community members and stakeholders at several locations to identify legal issues that low-income people of color face and how systemic and intersectional disadvantages impact people in their communities during this challenging time.

“Courts have had to grapple with complex questions about how best to provide services to the public amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as courts consider new policy options to sustain long term, this work will inform and guide them to ensure that they are not only effective but equitable and in direct response to community needs,” said Kelly Roberts Freeman, an NCSC senior court research associate directing the project.

Funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the work of the grant will help advance the organization’s efforts to advance racial equity and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities. Among NCSC’s specific areas of research interest is delivery of court services and how hybrid or blended approaches can continue in ways that increase both access to justice and the quality of the justice experience.

“There is a lot of momentum right now to engage people and communities of color on their justice experiences to help shape the future of the courts,” she added. “This project genuinely centers people, families, and communities in the work of the courts. At the same time, it seeks to strengthen fairness and trust in the courts.”

NCSC will gather qualitative data from resident advisory groups and stakeholders to develop analyses of community needs and impacts of pandemic-related policy changes. Key findings will be shared in a variety of formats, including accessible briefs and online tools.

Additionally, the research will inform existing NCSC projects such as the Blueprint for Racial Justice, Pandemic Rapid Response Team (RRT) Implementation Labs and National Upstream Consortium in our work to transform state court processes to effectively meet the needs of families and communities.

“NCSC has been supporting courts in transforming their policies and practices through rapid turnaround research and consulting as well as engaging court leaders in developing applied resources. This work will build upon these efforts through a deeper dive into local settings and a community participatory design that seeks to strengthen access to justice at this pivotal time,” Roberts Freeman said.

To learn more about the grant or site selection, contact Kelly Roberts Freeman.

NCSC, University of Illinois release pandemic findings

Litigant access to judicial proceedings during the pandemic improved after September 2020, according to findings in a new report released by NCSC and the University of Illinois earlier this month.

The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on State Court Proceedings draws its findings from surveys and focus groups that included litigants, lawyers, judges, and court personnel.

The authors, including NCSC Senior Court Research Associate Andrea Miller, found that, early in the pandemic, litigants had a hard time participating in court proceedings. Respondents said this difficulty waned as the pandemic continued. However, access to reliable internet and other resources remains hindered.

This report is the first in a series from the University of Illinois System's Institute of Government and Public Affairs that explores how COVID-19 mitigation policies affected access to justice during the pandemic.