Wisconsin received its annual report card in the latest Justice Index, an assessment tool developed by the National Center for Access to Justice to “promote policies that enable people who need the help of state courts to gain access and get fair treatment, even if they can’t afford a lawyer.” That goal aligns well with our Commission’s mission “to develop and encourage means of expanding access to the civil justice system for unrepresented low-income Wisconsin residents.”
The Justice Index rates the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, across four different categories: attorney access, self-representation, language access, and disability access. Each category includes a range of different policies that states should have in place, some are simple and inexpensive while others are more complex and costly. The methodology behind the Justice Index is described in more detail here.
Wisconsin’s composite score was 49.52 out of 100. That would not be a passing grade on most exams but that score was enough to put Wisconsin in 13th place overall on the Justice Index when compared to other states. In the individual policy areas that make up the composite score, Wisconsin ranks:
- 5th on providing language access for people with limited English proficiency;
- 7th on disability access;
- 16th on attorney access; and
- 22nd in court system resources for self-representation.
The index isn’t perfect and one can argue over what policies to include or how to weight them but it is a useful comparative tool for measuring how states are doing on important aspects of their justice system. Thoughtful consideration and adoption of these policies can help ensure fairness for everyone in the civil justice system, not just those who can afford it.
So, the Commission views the Justice Index as a useful tool that we are incorporating into our strategic planning process and our collaborations with our justice partners. We are using Wisconsin’s responses to the specific policy measures that make up the Justice Index to identify opportunities for improvement that the Commission and others can pursue. That’s the kind of progress that any report card should encourage, right?
The following chart from the Justice Index shows Wisconsin’s overall ranking.