Language barriers within the criminal justice system create real challenges to both due process rights and effective law enforcement. Whether it is at the point of arrest or in court, appropriate practices, personnel, and processes are necessary to provide a just and fair trial.
Despite language access being guaranteed by federal policy, many courts across the country fail to provide competent interpreters to non-English-speaking individuals in civil cases (Abel, 2009). In its report, the Brennan Center for Justice examined interpretation services in 35 states and found that 46 percent of states examined failed to require that interpreters be provided in all civil cases and 37 percent failed to require the use of credentialed interpreters (Abel, 2009). Furthermore, 80 percent failed to require that courts pay for the interpreters they provide, which resulted in those that most needed services were not able to access those services.
In California, courts that receive federal funding are mandated to provide free interpreters in all court proceedings to avoid violating civil rights (Administrative Office of the Courts, 2013). However, this does not always happen. The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles has filed complaints for many of its clients who have been denied access to court interpreters (Yeung, 2012). Since California is a state with a big immigrant population, access to language services for all is critical. With no access to an interpreter, individuals with limited English proficiency cannot communicate with or be understood by judges, clerks, and sometimes even their own lawyers (Abel, 2009).
Beyond the courts, language barriers are apparent when law enforcement officials are not able to communicate with those who do not speak English. Programs are available to provide training to help law enforcement officials overcome language barriers. For example, law enforcement agencies can partner with the VERA Institute’s Translating Justice program to train law enforcement personnel: Overcoming Language Barriers: Solutions for Law Enforcement.
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