Looking at Rural Justice

Changes in US life and industry have left states and local governments with changing communities and shifting resources. Legal systems are affected directly as rural communities become more isolated from legal resources and services. Meanwhile, lawyers in rural areas are retiring, moving and are not consistently replaced by newer lawyers or law school graduates.

State and local governments are faced with the problem of providing a speedy trial or access to justice and are faced with the problem of how to interact with rural community members. This includes all legal services initiated by individuals or initiated by the local government. There are some obvious risks like not collecting court fees efficiently, not providing a speedy trial resulting in a dismissal of charges, and perhaps more serious is the long-term risk to public safety.

There are infrastructure and access issues unique to rural areas. How far away is the courthouse? Is there a lawyer available in the community to advise or represent individuals? Does law enforcement have access to rural community members to provide protection, serve papers, etc.? Do the rural areas have internet access?  California and New York have been leading the way via nonprofit organizations encouraging (and incenting) law students to consider serving in rural areas, providing pro bono services via traveling lawyers and organizing judges to visit rural areas at regular intervals.

Has your organization developed a rural justice strategy?

Here are some additional resources on the topic

New York Rural Justice

One Justice

Jack Weakly