Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Is access to justice a greater challenge in rural states?

This story from yesterday's National Law Journal suggests rural states may be doing a poorer job at providing access to justice for low-income residents.  The headline is, "Access to Justice Best in D.C., Massachusetts, worst in Mississippi and Wyoming."  Karen Sloan reports:
[The National Center for Access to Justice]'s Justice Index evaluates each state according to the number of civil legal aid attorneys for the poor, the availability of resources for people representing themselves in legal matters, and assistance for non-English speakers and the disabled.
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In addition to Washington and Massachusetts, Hawaii, Maryland and Connecticut made up the index’s five top-ranked-states. Mississippi and Wyoming had the two lowest scores, followed by Nevada, South Dakota and Indiana. Mississippi had particularly low scores in language access and resources for people representing themselves.
The data appears to reflect a trend across the rural-urban axis, with the exception, perhaps, of Hawaii, which has large rural segments but good ATJ, and Indiana, which is not as "rural" as Mississippi, South Dakota or Wyoming.  Nevada, too, has a couple of significant metro areas.

The story does briefly mention the challenge of spatiality and low population density:
The District of Columbia’s top ranking is due primarily to a “considerably” higher ratio of civil legal aid attorneys than any other jurisdiction, the index notes. It has both the highest population density and the highest per-capita attorney population. “The extreme differences in density of people raise interesting questions about the distribution of civil legal aid services between urban and rural areas,” according to the index website.
My own work on access to justice challenges in rural locales can be found here and here.

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