Translating Justice assists system actors charged with administering justice to overcome communication barriers with people who have limited English proficiency (LEP). Translating Justice provides police agencies, legal service providers, victim service providers, and others with training, tailored assistance, and research on promising practices in the field of language access.

Our Work

Guiding Immigration Legal Service Providers

Assisting Law Enforcement in Overcoming Language Barriers

  • Bridging the Language Divide (2009) and its companion webcast highlight promising programs that police are using to communicate effectively with residents who do not speak English. These were selected from a survey of practices at nearly 200 police agencies.
  • Engaging Police in Immigrant Communities (2012) and its companion podcasts and toolkit, shares best practices, including practices focused on language access, for law enforcement officials working to cultivate trust and collaboration with immigrant communities.
  • Overcoming Language Barriers (2007) guides agencies in language access planning, and profiles three agencies in Anaheim, California; Clark County, Ohio; and Las Vegas, Nevada.  A useful checklist with strategies to ensure language access can be found at the end of the report.

Aiding Criminal Justice and Juvenile Justice Practitioners in Addressing Language Barriers

  • Reducing Disproportionate Minority Contact in Juvenile Justice (2007) - This report documents how language barriers faced by parents of court-involved youth contribute to the greater likelihood that their child will be prosecuted for criminal offenses, detained while his or her case is pending, and, ultimately, sentenced to prison.
  • Spotlight on Central American Spanish - a resource focusing on the regional varieties of Spanish spoken by unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which may feature unique accents and phrases
  • Best Practices for Working with Interpreters - a resource outlining how to work with interpreters, either telephonic or in-person
  • Vera developed two glossaries (in Spanish and Chinese) for interpreters, translators, and bilingual staff at New York City's justice and public safety agencies, courts, and nonprofit organizations.
  • Vera developed a bilingual glossary (English-Spanish) of terms covering a wide range of topics often featured in Know Your Rights presentations or used in the representation of unaccompanied children.

Why Translating Justice?

U.S. Census data shows that almost 20 percent of Americans speak a language other than English at home, and about 25 million Americans have a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English—they are what is known as limited English proficient (LEP). Language access is a crucial factor in the successful delivery of services to crime victims, as every interaction—from the identification of needs to the provision of services—requires effective communication.

Language barriers are associated with a number of adverse outcomes, including victimization. Immigrants, particularly those who are LEP and/or fearful of deportation, are at great risk of being targeted by criminals for various crimes, including domestic violence, assault, fraud, sexual assault, robbery, trafficking, and bias/hate crimes. Perpetrators know these individuals cannot or will not seek out police protection, due to language barriers or a limited understanding of the U.S. criminal justice system. Underreporting of these crimes means that victims are not able to fully access justice options and services, and are prevented from holding offenders accountable, thus threatening the security of all communities.

Other groups that have an immediate and pressing need for language access are adult immigrants in detention and young immigrant children alone in federal custody. Cut off from their communities and support networks, it is often difficult to fully understand the incredibly complex immigration system, their rights and responsibilities, and what forms of legal recourse are available to them. In response, Vera has developed programs to bring vital information and representation to these isolated groups in the appropriate languages. 

Understanding the Maze: If Your Child Has Contact with the Law
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
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?
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: Chinese Criminal Justice Glossaries for New York City
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.
Translating Justice: A Spanish Glossary for New York City
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...