Language in the U.S.
The U.S. population is diverse and with that comes diversity in language. For many people in the U.S., English is not their first or primary language. Nearly one in ten U.S. residents has limited English proficiency (LEP), meaning a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English.1 Others communicate differently because of hearing and/or visual impairments, including use of American Sign Language (ASL) and Braille. Victims with LEP, or who communicate with ASL, need language assistance when navigating the criminal justice system. This is true even for those who are comfortable communicating in English in their everyday lives because the criminal justice system has a unique vocabulary and complicated processes. For victims of sexual assault, trauma can impact their ability to communicate the details of the assault, and being able to communicate in their native language may ease that painful recall process.
Anyone navigating, or seeking to meaningfully engage with, the criminal justice system, must have the ability to clearly communicate with the professionals in that system. Recognizing this, the past couple decades have seen developments in law and policy aimed at ensuring those who are navigating the criminal justice system have access to language tools that enable them to access a justice system they understand and that understands them.
1. Pandya, C, Batalova J, McHugh M, “Limited English Proficient Individuals in the United States: Number, Share, Growth, and Linguistic Diversity,” Migration Policy Institute (2011), available at http://www.migrationinformation.org/integration/LEPdatabrief.pdf