Supporting the Nation's Judicial System & the Public it Serves

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National Judicial Opioid Task Force

The National Judicial Opioid Task Force (NJOTF) was established by the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), with funding from SJI, in August 2017 to address the issue of opioid-related cases and promote solutions nationwide.

Recently, the NJOTF released a summary update detailing the activities over the past year, which includes the accomplishments of NJOTF work groups (Children and Families, Civil and Criminal Justice, and Collaboration and Education).  Presented in a clear manner, using infographics, a timeline, and summarized content, the NJOTF has centered their efforts on addressing critical topics and producing practical materials such as fact sheets, webinars, videos, “TedTalk” style events, bench cards, interactive maps, and other resources for judges, court personnel, and justice system stakeholders.

As these resources become available, SJI will continue to share them and updates are also available on the NJOTF website, hosted by the National Center for State Courts.

Family Justice Initiative

The fact that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce means that a lot of Americans end up in family courts, but many of those courts are not equipped to meet the needs of today’s families, according to a new study by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Justices (NCJFCJ).

The Family Justice Initiative (FJI), an ambitious, first-of-its-kind project, supported by SJI hopes to change that by making it easier and quicker for litigants to navigate family courts.

“This is an initiative that has the capacity to help courts that are struggling to assist families,” said Alicia Davis, principal court management consultant. “Courts are effective in determining winners and losers, but family courts have to help families solve their problems. If we can study problem-solving strategies, we can eventually say to courts across the country, ‘This is what really helps families.’”

The FJI’s goal is to create better and faster experiences for litigants and less stress and more gratification for judges and other court employees.

The first phase of the three-phase initiative recently ended with the release of a study of 10 large family courts nationwide.  The study showed that cases – whether they are contested or uncontested – take longer than they should, and that courts don’t have good enough data to make changes that will make court processes more efficient and allow court employees to more effectively help litigants.  The specific finding that surprised Davis most is that contested and uncontested cases take about the same amount of time. She was least surprised that between 70 percent and 80 percent of litigants came to court without a lawyer.  “That’s something we’ve been hearing for a long time.”

CCJ/COSCA National Task Force on Fines, Fees, & Bail Practices

The Conference of Chief Justices/Conference of State Court Administrators (CCJ/COSCA) National Task Force on Fines, Fees, and Bail Practices recently released an 8-page report titled, Principles on Fines, Fees, and Bail Practices.

The principles each fall into one of the following seven categories:

  • Structural and Policy-Related Principles
  • Governance Principles
  • Transparency Principles
  • Fundamental Fairness Principles
  • Pretrial Release and Bail Reform Principles
  • Fines, Fees and Alternative Sanctions Principles; and,
  • Accountability Principles

Categories and principles are expected to be refined as the Task Force and its stakeholders work through existing and emerging issues on court fines, fees, and bail practices, including pending legislation and cases in individual states.

The Task Force originated in 2016 from the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators.  Collaboration at the time identified a need to: develop recommendations and tools to promote the fair and efficient enforcement of the law; ensure no person is denied access to the justice system based on lack of economic resources; and, develop policies relating to legal financial obligations that promote access, fairness, and transparency.  SJI, along with the DOJ/Bureau of Justice Assistance, has provided grant funding to support the work of the Task Force.

Pretrial Justice and the State Courts Initiative

The Pretrial Justice and the State Court Initiative is a collaboration between the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), with grant support provided by SJI.  Two new resources are now available that provide valuable insights on successful pretrial programs administered by state courts:

Estimating the Costs of Implementing Pretrial Assessment and Monitoring Services: This brief highlights how courts and their criminal justice system partners can collaborate to estimate the costs of using an evidenced-based pretrial assessment and monitoring tools (both supervision-based and remote/electronic).  Examples from California, Kentucky, New Jersey, Yakima County in Washington, and St. Mary’s County in Maryland, are presented to show how both uniform statewide and jurisdiction-based programs have been planned, implemented, and reviewed.  The brief walks the reader through considerations to explore with stakeholders before moving forward in light of shared outcomes, efficiencies, and cost-benefit analysis.

Pretrial Justice Planning Guide for Courts: This guide provides an in-depth analysis of the pretrial planning process that jurisdictions have or should embark on when working with partners using a multi-phase approach.  By breaking down the process into: 1) Guiding Questions; 2) Tasks and Worksheets; and, 3) Online Resources, the guide is meant to actively support the planning process after agreement that some pretrial program and service is needed, or a situation where the court is positioned as the lead to guide the process to redesign  and improve the existing pretrial program.

A Call to Action: Civil Justice Improvements Committee Recommendations

Civil Justice Improvements Committee Full Report

Executive Summary

Benefits and Costs of Civil Justice Reform

Assessment of Missouri Municipal Courts

Missouri Municipal Court Best Practices Recommendations – Final Report (2015)

Executive Session for State Court Leaders in the 21st Century