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Following RI ACLU Complaint, R.I. Judiciary Announces Improved Interpreter Services for Defendants

Posted: April 14, 2014|Category: Immigration

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Following a ten-year U.S. Department of Justice investigation prompted by an ACLU of Rhode Island complaint, the state judiciary has adopted a plan to ensure adequate language interpreter services are available to all clients in the state’s courts.

The state judiciary, as part of a settlement agreement with the Justice Department, has adopted a Language Access Plan that, among other things, requires ongoing translation of forms and signs in court buildings and provides that all criminal and civil defendants will receive notices at the beginning of a case advising them of their right to free interpreter services.

The plan, announced in April 2014, shows the courts have made substantial progress in providing language assistance since 2004 when the ACLU first filed its complaint about the lack of language interpreter services provided to individuals with limited English proficiency in criminal court proceedings.

At that time, judges were acknowledging that criminal defendants were occasionally kept in jail for days awaiting interpreters to translate proposed plea bargains. Criminal defendants often had to have family members or friends to interpret for them as courts relied on a combination of freelance interpreters, bilingual relatives, and even volunteers from the audience to act as interpreters.

The complaint pointed to comments made by judges as far back as 1987 expressing concern about the problem.

The plan will be reviewed annually and the Justice Department will monitor the program and provide technical assistance for at least two years. The ACLU noted that oversight was key to ensure that the settlement agreement is implemented to the fullest extent possible and that individuals receive the services they need once in the court system.

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