The Rural Justice crisis and the pressure on State and County governments to find solutions is well documented. States that otherwise may not have much in common like Alaska, Nevada, New York, and North Dakota have all worked on policy and incentive programs for law enforcement and lawyers to reside and practice or serve in rural communities. It’s also recognized that urban courts have rural justice reach as they need to communicate to all involved in a court-related matter regardless of their location. Studies agree that traveling 200+ miles to see a lawyer or make a court appearance is not equal justice under the law.
The state of Nevada has found that leaving problem up to counties to solve has created legislative consequences. The state introduced a bill in 2015 that died in committee and passed Bill 377 in 2017 that created a commission to find solutions, but none have been implemented. In those two years, various counties in Nevada attempted to solve the problem independently. In November 2017, the ACLU filed suit against the state of Nevada for violating the 6th amendment in six rural counties (ACLU Sues Nevada).
Rural justice initiatives and solutions must include collaboration between systems of record for Law Enforcement, Child Welfare Services, and Tribal Courts. In 2006, the State of Alaska recognized the expansion of technology as one of the top five solutions to their rural justice crisis. They integrated their public health records, law enforcement records, tribal records, and court records to facilitate communication between all the organizations. This has been especially useful in communities where internet access isn’t guaranteed. Law Enforcement and Legal professionals can access all information in real-time and share with the individuals participating in the court system. The state has been especially creative holding court sessions in local facilities like high school gyms, decreasing the amount of travel for a defendant, plaintiff, lawyer or witness.
Are your counties, public departments, and indigenous communities communicating seamlessly to improve rural justice?
The full Initial Report and Recommendations of the Alaska Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission can be found here: Alaska Rural Justice