Justice Index Shows Court Fees, Lawyers Often “Out of Reach” for Poor

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The majority of U.S. states do not help people with mental illness navigate the justice system, nearly half do not provide interpreters for people with limited English skills and millions of people who cannot afford a lawyer don’t receive legal help, according to research findings uploaded this week into The Justice Index at the National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law School.

The Justice Index can be searched by four different topics: attorney access, self representation access, language access and disability access. Each of the index topics includes interactive data tools that allow viewers to compare and contrast data from different states and regions.

“Even for those who are comfortably middle class, the cost of a lawsuit can cause serious hardship,” the introduction to the attorney access index states. “For people of more modest means, paid counsel is simply out of reach for matters as important as evictions, mortgage foreclosures, child custody and child support proceedings, and debt collection cases.”

Research findings include:

  • There are .64 attorneys available for every 10,000 people living at or below the poverty level
  • Courts in all but 12 states require court fees even for people who cannot afford to pay, making it difficult for poor people to use the justice system
  • States pursuing innovative reforms to help poor people with translation and legal representation include Massachusetts, Maryland and Hawaii; States that are underperforming include Mississippi, Nevada and Vermont.


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