President’s Budget Proposes Civil Legal Research and Civil Legal Aid Competitive Grant Program

Two important development for the future in the federal budget process.  While these proposals are unlikely to be sucessful tis year, they help create the environment thefuture, and can also be cited for the position of the Executive as to need and ohilosophy.

The president’s budget (portion from fact sheet below at p. 194) includes a request for $3.0 million for research on indigent defense strategies, and for $2.7 million for civil legal research to be managed by NIJ in cooperation with DOJ’s Access to Justice Office.

Within the $16.5 million requested increase, 5.0 million will fund the Collecting Digital Evidence Initiative in order to improve the means to conduct digital forensics of large-scale computer systems and networks; $3.0 million will fund Social Science Research on Indigent Defense, which will include evaluations of current strategies for indigent defense, as well as research and development to generate new research-based strategies for strengthening and safeguarding indigent defense in the U.S.; $2.7 million will support Civil Legal Research , which will be managed by NIJ, in coordination with the Department’s Access-to-Justice (ATJ) Initiative Office; and $5.8 million will support NIJ’s base set of programs, which support criminal justice-focused social, physical, and forensic science research.

 It is potentially very important for the future that DOJ adds the following language to the fact sheet describing changes required in the appropriation language to permit the civil research.

Currently, NIJ’s ability to examine the broad area of civil justice is limited by its authorizing statutes; it can conduct research on civil justice issues only when they “bear directly and substantially” on or are “inextricably intertwined with” criminal justice issues and criminal justice administration (42 U.S.C. 3789n). As part of the FY 2016 Budget proposal, the Department is requesting new appropriations language that will ensure NIJ has the necessary authority to successfully carry out the new civil justice-related programs mentioned above.

Even if the requested additional money were not allocated, maybe such a language change would help permit more flexibility in current grant flows.

The President is also asking $5.0 million for a competitve program of grants to support civil legal aid planning processes, system improvements, and innovation (at p 245 of the Fact Sheet.)

In FY 2016, the President’s Budget requests $5.0 million for a Civil Legal Aid Competitive Grant Program. This program, which will be administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) in collaboration with the Department’s Access to Justice Initiative (ATJ), will provide funding, training, and technical assistance to incentivize civil legal aid planning processes and system improvements, supporting innovative efforts to improve and expand civil legal assistance services at the state, local, and tribal levels.

 It should be noted that the phrase “civil legal assistance services” in this description would support a broad definition of “legal aid” in any ultimate grantmaking — one not limited to lawyer-only services or to specific organizations.  Similarly, it is helpful that the impact on performance discussion (at p. 246) includes reference to “leverag[ing] existing legal aid nonprofits, state courts, local bar associations, technology innovations, law schools, and pro bono programs to develop innovative models that make use of public/private collaboration.”

The Civil Legal Aid Competitive Grants Program can be used to promote a “race to the top” for access to civil legal justice that would challenge state, local, and tribal governments to develop truly integrated civil legal aid systems. These systems will leverage existing legal aid nonprofits, state courts, local bar associations, technology innovations, law schools, and pro bono programs to develop innovative models that make use of public/private collaboration. By requiring an evaluation of each project funded by this program, OJP will also further the Administration’s efforts to use evidence-based decision-making to improve results. This program offers the Department an opportunity to provide national leadership in the area of civil legal aid programs and help state, local, and tribal grantees to adapt their own blueprint for building integrated civil justice assistance systems in their jurisdictions through the lessons learned.

 Much of the remaining narrative discuses the extent and consequences of lack of representation, and that should be considered as  designed to underline the need.

Of course, the focus on integration is particularly helpful in terms of encouraging a triage and continuum of services approach.  ATJ Commissions should shurely be focusing on all these aspects of the future, including the possibility of this supportive Federal role.

Change is slow, but this is what starts to happen when you have an institutionalized office with dedicated and energetic staff.

 

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About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
This entry was posted in Defender Programs, Dept. of Justice, Funding, Triage, White House. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to President’s Budget Proposes Civil Legal Research and Civil Legal Aid Competitive Grant Program

  1. Claudia says:

    Thanks for this information Richard. Giving a neutral Federal institution the mandate and resources to do research that can support policy for civil legal services is a great step forward. I had blogged about this in the “Elephant in the Room” https://accesstojustice.net/2011/12/30/claudia-johnson-blogs-on-legal-services-policy-research-and-the-elephant-in-the-room/ Good to see some traction here!

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