Each fiscal year, SJI allocates significant financial resources to support its Priority Investment Areas. The Priority Investment Areas are applicable to all grant types.
SJI strongly encourages potential grant applicants to consider projects addressing one or more of these Priority Investment Areas and to integrate the following factors into each proposed project:
- Evidence based, data-driven decision making
- Cross sector collaboration
- Systemic approaches (as opposed to standalone programs)
- Institutionalization of new court processes and procedures
- Ease of replication
For FY 2024, the Priority Investment Areas are listed below in no specific order.
Opioids and Other Dangerous Drugs, and Behavioral Health Responses
Research indicates that justice involved persons have significantly greater proportions of mental, substance use, and co-occurring disorders than are found in the public. SJI supports cross-sector collaboration and information sharing that emphasizes policies and practices designed to improve court responses to justice-involved persons with behavioral health and other co-occurring needs.
Judges, court staff, system stakeholders and court-involved persons (defendants, respondents, and victims) alike may be impacted by prior trauma. This is particularly, but not exclusively, true for those with mental illness and/or substance use disorders. SJI supports trauma-informed training, policies and practices in all aspects of the judicial process.
Promoting Access to Justice and Procedural Fairness
A fundamental role of courts is to ensure fair processes and just outcomes for litigants. SJI promotes the integration of research-based procedural fairness principles, policies, and practices into state court operations to increase public trust and confidence in the court system, reduce recidivism, and increase compliance with court orders.
SJI promotes court-based solutions to address increases in self-represented litigants; specifically making courts more user-friendly by simplifying court forms, providing one-on-one assistance, developing guides, handbooks, and instructions on how to proceed, developing court-based self-help centers, and using Internet technologies to increase access. These projects are improving outcomes for litigants and saving valuable court resources.
SJI supports language access in the state courts through remote interpretation (outside the courtroom), interpreter training and certification, courtroom services (plain language forms, websites, etc.), and addressing the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act.
Reducing Disparities and Protecting Victims, Underserved, and Vulnerable Populations
SJI supports research and data-driven approaches that examine statutory requirements, policies, and practices that result in disparities for justice-involved persons. These disparities can be because of inequities in socio-economic, racial, ethnic, gender, age, health, or other factors. In addition to identifying disparities, SJI promotes systemic approaches to reducing disparities.
SJI addresses the impact of federal and state human trafficking laws on the state courts, and the challenges faced by state courts in dealing with cases involving trafficking victims and their families. These efforts are intended to empower state courts to identify victims, link them with vital services, and hold traffickers accountable.
Rural areas and their justice systems routinely have fewer resources and more barriers than their urban counterparts, such as availability of services, lack of transportation, and smaller workforces. Programs and practices that are effective in urban areas are often inappropriate and or lack supported research for implementation in rural areas. SJI supports rural courts by identifying promising and best practices, and promoting resources, education, and training opportunities uniquely designed for rural courts and court users.
SJI assists courts in improving court oversight of guardians and conservators for the elderly and incapacitated adults through visitor programs, electronic reporting, and training.
Advancing Justice Reform
SJI assists state courts in taking a leadership role in reviewing fines, fees, and bail practices to ensure processes are fair and access to justice is assured; implementing alternative forms of sanction; developing processes for indigency review; promoting transparency, governance, and structural reforms that promote access to justice, accountability, and oversight; and implementing innovative diversion and re-entry programs that serve to improve outcomes for justice-involved persons and the justice system.
SJI supports innovative projects that advance best practices in handling dependency and delinquency cases; promote effective court oversight of juveniles in the justice system; address the impact of trauma on juvenile behavior; assist the courts in identification of appropriate provision of services for juveniles; and address juvenile re-entry.
SJI promotes court-based solutions for the myriad of civil case types, such as domestic relations, housing, employment, debt collection, which are overwhelming court dockets.
Courts must be prepared for natural disasters and public health emergencies and institutionalize the most effective and efficient practices and processes that evolve during response and recovery. SJI supports projects that look to the future of judicial service delivery by identifying and replicating innovations and alternate means of conducting court business due to public health emergencies such as pandemics, and natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires.
Courts must also be prepared for cyberattacks on court systems, such as denial of service and ransomware attacks on court case management systems, websites, and other critical information technology infrastructure. SJI supports projects that assist courts in preparing for, and responding to, these attacks, and share lessons-learned to courts across the United States.
Courts must integrate technological advances into daily judicial processes and proceedings. SJI supports projects that institutionalize the innovative technology that has successfully advanced the use of electronic filing and payment systems, online dispute resolution, remote work, and virtual court proceedings. SJI promotes projects that streamline case filing and management processes, thereby reducing time and costs to litigants and the courts; provide online access to courts to litigants so that disputes can be resolved more efficiently; and make structural changes to court services that enable them to evolve into an online environment. Additionally, SJI supports the examination of potential integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into court processes, including identification of positive outcomes and potential limitations of AI.
 See guidance on the prohibited use of SJI funds regarding equipment, software, and internet access.
Courts must rely on a deliberate process to determine organizational values, mission, vision, goals, and objectives. SJI promotes structured planning processes and organizational assessments to assist courts in setting priorities, allocating resources, and identifying areas for on-going improvements in efficiency and effectiveness. Strategic planning includes elements of court governance, data collection, management, analysis, sharing; and sustainable court governance models that drive decision-making. Strategic plans and outcomes should be communicated to judges, court staff, justice partners, and the public.
State courts require a workforce that is adaptable to public demands for services. SJI supports projects that focus on the tools needed to enable judges, court managers, and staff to be innovative, forward thinking court leaders.