Translating Justice

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Translating Justice works to overcome communication barriers between law enforcement and communities—such as immigrant enclaves—where many people do not speak or understand English well. The project provides police and law enforcement agencies with training, tailored consulting services, and research on promising practices in the field.

Our work

  • In February 2009, Translating Justice and the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) created a publication and companion webcast that highlighted programs police are using to communicate effectively with residents who do not speak English. Vera staff selected these programs after assessing practices at nearly 200 police agencies.
  • In previous work with the COPS Office, Translating Justice helped a diverse group of law enforcement agencies, including those in Anaheim, California; Clark County, Ohio; and Las Vegas, Nevada, develop policies that improve access to law enforcement services for people who do not speak English. The project culminated with a report that discussed the practical steps agencies can take to address language barriers.

Translating Justice has also explored how language barriers can contribute to the disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in the juvenile justice system; convened criminal justice officials to discuss how technology can bridge language gaps; and developed key resources, including bilingual criminal justice glossaries in Spanish and Chinese.

Why Translating Justice?

U.S. Census data shows that almost 20 percent of Americans speak a language other than English at home, and about 9 percent of Americans have a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English—they are what is known as limited English proficient (LEP). Unlike in the past, many new immigrants are settling in suburbs and small towns, which are largely unaccustomed to language diversity. In many of these communities, language and cultural barrriers may prevent immigrants from reporting crime—and that may cause them to be victimized. Police need to be able to communicate effectively with all of the people they serve so that they can offer protection, gather evidence, and keep communities safe.

For more information, contact Susan Shah.

Understanding the Maze: If Your Child Has Contact with the Law
10/31/2009
When children have contact with law enforcement, particularly if they are arrested, they can end up deeper than necessary in the justice system if their parents face language barriers. This guide helps parents and other caregivers understand their role and participate if their child is involved in...
Bridging the Language Divide: Promising Practices for Law Enforcement
01/31/2009
Law enforcement officers need to communicate with the people they serve to do their jobs safely and effectively. Yet due to changing demographics across the United States, police officers in many areas interact almost daily with people who do not speak or understand English well. To meet this...
Overcoming language barriers in the criminal justice system: can language assistance technology help?
08/31/2007
Criminal justice administrators are increasingly looking for creative and cost-effective ways to deal with language barriers that arise when serving a diverse population. One promising solution is to invest in “language assistance technology”—computer and networking technology that can ease...
Translating Justice: A Spanish Glossary for New York City
05/31/2007
The Vera Institute of Justice has developed a glossary in Spanish to serve as a resource for interpreters, translators, and bilingual staff at New York City's justice and public safety agencies, courts, and nonprofit organizations. We hope the use of these glossaries will improve limited English...
Translating Justice: Chinese Criminal Justice Glossaries for New York City
05/31/2007
In 2007 Vera developed this translated glossary of criminal and juvenile justice terms to serve as a resource for interpreters, translators, and bilingual staff at New York City's justice and public safety agencies, courts, and nonprofit organizations.