Rural Justice Collaborative


Molly Justice
Director of Communications & Online Media
National Center for State Courts

Rural Justice Collaborative announces rural justice innovation sites

Nation's top rural policy reformers select nine programs to serve as examples 

Williamsburg, VA  - The Rural Justice Collaborative (RJC) Advisory Council, composed of rural judges along with additional stakeholders in the justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and public health systems, has selected nine of the country’s most innovative rural justice programs to serve as models for other communities.

The RJC initiative, a project of the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and Rulo Strategies, will provide resources to enable other communities to replicate these successes of these Innovation Sites.

“The RJC will provide a vast knowledge pool filled with actionable content which individual communities may not have the resources to compile on their own,” said Kristina Bryant, an NCSC principal consultant and RJC coordinator. “These coaching and mentoring resources will allow rural community leaders to quickly get up to speed on promising and best practices and avoid missteps so they can launch their own successful initiatives.”

Research shows rural Americans are more likely than urban residents to be jailed, overdose, and lack access to substance use and mental health care and public health services. Communities sometimes try to implement solutions that have worked in urban centers but those are often unsuccessful.

“The programs and methods developed from large courts are often not models for rural courts, because they do not always account for the geographic barriers in rural areas, or resonate with key aspects of rural culture,” said Jonathan Mattiello, Executive Director of the State Justice Institute (SJI).

Over the next three years, the RJC will work with the Innovation Sites to create educational materials that will be featured in an online resource center. Thanks to funding from SJI, the Innovation Sites will also offer visits and participate in regional conferences. The project will look to identify additional sites as well.

“Rural community leaders often don’t have the resources to develop programs from scratch, but we know that many rural justice leaders have found innovative solutions to their complex problems. Before this, there has been no nationally concerted effort for justice leaders and their collaborators in other sectors to share what they know. The Innovation Sites provide a framework that others can build from,” said Tara Kunkel, Executive Director of Rulo Strategies.

Rural Justice Innovation Sites will work on solving problems which range from providing substance use and mental health treatment for underserved communities to efforts that reduce the number of children in foster care.

The first group of sites includes:

  • South Carolina Victim Assistance Network Reaching Rural Initiative The Reaching Rural Initiative provides resources to crime victims remotely and in their own communities via Victims’ Rights Centers.
  • Lazarus Recovery Services in North Carolina  This program of Project Lazarus provides prevention and recovery support services to justice-involved individuals with substance use disorders.
  • The Center for Empowering Victims of Gender-based Violence in Kansas This research and collaboration center focuses on promoting the connection between social entrepreneurship and economic freedom for domestic violence and human trafficking victims.
  • The Rural Attorney Recruitment Program in South Dakota The Rural Attorney Recruitment Program recruits qualified attorneys to practice for five years in rural counties where older attorneys are retiring and there is an absence of individuals to provide legal services.
  • The Rural Incubator Project for Lawyers in Montana This program provides a 24-month fellowship program that trains and supports attorneys to develop solo or small firm practices that provide legal services to low-income Montanans in rural communities.
  • Texas Dispute Resolution System: Rural Mediation Rural Texans benefit from this alternative dispute resolution system which provides in-person and virtual mediation services.
  • Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project in West Virginia This project connects indigent criminal defendants with substance use disorders to certified peer recovery coaches who arrange for substance use treatment opportunities immediately after a client is released from incarceration.
  • Scott County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) Team in Tennessee
    This multi-agency group provides various services and support to victims of domestic violence, elder abuse, human trafficking and sexual assault.
  • Family Accountability and Recovery Court in North Carolina
    Families involved in the child welfare system due to allegations of child abuse, neglect, or other parenting issues related to substance dependence find services in this program that facilitate wholistic treatment.

About the Rural Justice Collaborative
The RJC showcases the strengths of rural communities and highlights the cross-sector collaboration that is a hallmark of rural justice systems. The work under the RJC is supported by a cross-sector advisory council composed of rural judges along with additional stakeholders in the justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and public health systems. The advisory council will guide the multi-year initiative and identify innovative programs and practices.

The RJC priority focus areas are:

  • Increasing access to behavioral health treatment
  • Reducing victimization
  • Facilitating employment/educational opportunities for justice involved individuals
  • Eliminating barriers of access to justice
  • Reducing incarceration
  • Facilitating reentry
  • Reducing the number of children in foster care due to substance use disorders