Studies Point to ‘Access to Justice Gap’ Among Low-Income and Immigrant Communities

A new 'Justice Index' shows states in the South and Midwest are sorely lacking in access to civil legal counsel.

By Von Diaz Mar 11, 2014

In what some advocates are describing as a human rights crisis, new studies reveal how widespread lack of access to adequate legal counsel is among those who struggle with income inequality and limited English language proficiency. The National Center for Access to Justice recently launched a Justice Index, which looks specifically at access to legal representation, language assistance and disability assistance across the country. Their study found that: 

  • In 45 percent of states judges do not provide assistance for those without legal counsel, even though 80 percent of people self-represent during court proceedings. 
  • A quarter of states don’t use certified interpreters in courtrooms, often leaving people with limited language ability relying on friends, family member, or uncertified interpreters. 
  • The ratio of attorneys available for people living in poverty compared to the rest of the population is 1:40. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, the states with the lowest ratings (meaning the least access to legal justice options) are concentrated in the South and the Midwest, with a few exceptions such as Arizona and Montana.

The data collected by the Justice Index also supports findings in a report by the Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, which advocates for increased access for legal counsel in civil cases among low income people of color, women, and immigrants–who have a significant "civil justice gap." In addition to these initiatives, the Department of Justice (DOJ) convened a meeting in February to address the challenges faced by those with limited English language proficiency, a number that’s nearly doubled since 1990 to 25 million people. 

(h/t NPR