Each fiscal year, SJI allocates significant financial resources to support its Priority Investment Areas (PIAS). The PIAs are applicable to all grant types, and the categories within allow for greater flexibility to be responsive to current and emerging court trends. These broad PIAs are closely aligned with SJI’s mission in both statute and policy. SJI strongly encourages potential grant applicants to consider projects addressing one or more of these PIAs, 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)
- Ease of replication
For FY 2021, the Priority Investment Areas are listed below in no specific order:
Opioids and Other Dangerous Drugs, and Behavioral Health Responses
Behavioral Health Disparities
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.
Promoting Access to Justice and Procedural Fairness
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.
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.
Reducing Disparities and Protecting Victims, Underserved, and Vulnerable Populations
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.
Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Elder Issues
SJI assists courts in improving court oversight of guardians and conservators for the elderly and incapacitated adults through visitor programs, electronic reporting, and training.
Disparities in Justice
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.
Advancing Justice Reform
Criminal 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.
Juvenile Justice Reform
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.
Family and Civil Justice Reform
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.
Emergency Response and Recovery
Courts must be prepared for natural disasters and public health emergencies, such as pandemics. SJI supports projects that look to the future of judicial service delivery by identifying and replicating innovations and alternate means of conducting court business because of 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.
SJI promotes and supports innovative technology projects that will improve court processes and procedures, including technology 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; make structural changes to court services that enable them to evolve into an online environment.
Training, Education, and Workforce Development
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 lead their courts in future reform efforts.