Irvine, CA, June 30, 2024 –(– Building on her research on the Latino experience in the criminal justice system, Nancy Rodríguez now is working on creating a solution to accessibility issues for those with language barriers.

The professor of criminology, law and society’s latest efforts are being funded by a $450,000 grant from the John D. Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

“Efforts to reduce disparities and inequality in the justice system must include the limited English proficient (LEP) population,” Rodríguez says. “Certainly, language barriers have the potential to impact justice system outcomes.”

Rodríguez and her research team recently produced a policy brief as a result of a previous MacArthur grant project that examined how many Latinos are arrested, detained, and sentenced in courts in select U.S. cities. Those reports showed that local justice systems are not equipped to serve immigrants.

In her “Establishing, Implementing, and Maintaining a Language Access Program” report, she surveyed several local criminal justice systems and discovered gaps in the availability of language services for those who are LEP, despite provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that require federally-funded agencies to provide meaningful access to their programs and activities. The report finds that while organizations and agencies within local criminal justice systems often receive federal funding, and are mandated to provide language services, specific practices and the extent to which services are made available in those systems remain relatively unknown.

According to 2018 estimates, 12 percent of people (about 25.6 million) living in the U.S. are LEP.

“The LEP population needs language services to meaningfully access public safety information or request public safety services,” Rodríguez notes.

To that end, Rodríguez will develop a framework for effective language accessibility and ensure that the U.S. Department of Justice is serving the diverse LEP communities throughout the U.S.

The Justice Department recently launched its Law Enforcement Language Access Initiative (LELAI), a nationwide effort to assist law enforcement agencies in meeting their obligations to provide meaningful language assistance to LEP individuals. The initiative is being led by the Civil Rights Division’s Federal Coordination and Compliance Section and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices via COPS. LELAI offers guidance on legal obligation to access, appropriate tools and resources, sample access plans, policies, and forms, translated Miranda warnings, information on machine translation, and funding sources for LEP populations.

“Access resources are needed and the federal government taking a lead with the LELAI is an important first step,” Rodríguez says. “However, little is known about the proportion of LEP persons in communities, their frequency in the justice system, and the needs of LEP individuals with regard to language access. This information is vital if resources are to be used and be effective on the ground.”

Preliminary work from Professor Rodríguez shows that system-impacted Spanish-dominant persons prefer particular types of language access services, and unfortunately, experience frequent poor language access assistance.

“By bringing together local criminal justice agencies and federal agencies authorized to advance language access, there is an opportunity to create an effective model of language access resources for the LEP population,” Rodríguez says.

Her research will produce a report on promising practices associated with language access services and a framework for language access delivery.

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