- What is the current state of the art for court technology and practice?
- What are the opportunities where changes in technology, policy, or practice could improve performance in the court system?
- Based on the objectives of the court system, what are the highest-priority needs for courts in the United States?
Society relies on the judicial system to play numerous roles. It is the link between law enforcement and the corrections system and serves as a check on their power over citizens. It also adjudicates civil disputes, serving as a venue for negotiation and resolution of various problems. In playing these roles, courts today are challenged by a wide range of issues, such as high caseloads, resource constraints, disparities in justice outcomes, and increasing needs to share information. For the courts to adapt to these challenges and take advantage of new opportunities to improve their ability to play their critical roles, the court system needs innovation. This report draws on published literature and new structured deliberations of a practitioner Courts Advisory Panel to frame an innovation agenda. It identifies and prioritizes potential improvements in technology, policy, and practice for the court system. Some of the top-tier needs identified by the panel and researchers include developing better tools to sort cases and match them with the process most likely to get them to an outcome efficiently and effectively, defining strategies and minimum standards for protecting the "virtual filing cabinets" that hold the court's formal records, and expanding the court-related transactions and interactions that could be done from a distance over the Internet. Such high-priority needs provide a menu of innovation options for addressing key problems or capitalizing on emerging opportunities for the court system. This report is part of a larger effort to assess and prioritize technology and related needs across the criminal justice community for the National Institute of Justice's National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center system.
Courts Today Face a Wide Range of Challenges
- Members of the Courts Advisory Panel identified the major issues or problems in courts today in five key areas: case preparation, court information management, support for court hearings, facilities management, and people management.
- Among issues raised by the panel, issues of caseloads and the required amount of staff to handle them were prominent. So were concerns related to court security and emergency preparedness.
- Much of the panel cited issues with sharing information across jurisdiction boundaries and across criminal justice agencies, particularly problems with system compatibility. Data protection and the quality of the data entered in court information systems were also common concerns.
- The panel also voiced concerns about balance and fairness in the justice system — because the resources available to the state have the potential to overmatch the resources that all but the wealthiest individuals could use in their own defenses. Issues of how to support pro se litigants also were raised.
Innovation Needs for the Court System Fall into Eight Broad Categories
- Leverage opportunities for greater court efficiency while ensuring that technology serves justice goals.
- Improve security and emergency preparedness.
- Improve quality and utilization of shared data in the justice system.
- Strengthen analysis and use of data.
- Address concerns in maintaining and protecting the court record.
- Address basic technology shortfalls in today's courts.
- Improve court technology acquisition processes.
- Use technology for notification and public communication.
- This effort, aimed at the national level, sought to frame an innovation agenda for the court system writ large. The value of the result will be driven by application and by how individual agencies or organizations use the identified needs to inform their choices about the future.
- The innovation agenda presented here represents a starting point for developing new technology, policy, and practice to improve court performance. Rooted in present problems and current technology opportunities, the agenda represents a snapshot in time, one that should be revisited both as technology and society change and as it becomes possible to elaborate on and expand the agenda.
- Reflecting the courts as both an actor and a venue that brings together entities across government, the private sector, and the general public, many of these needs reach outside the walls of the courthouse, creating potential benefits and requirements for many organizations and for society more generally. Pursuing these innovations is part of a broader program of improving national justice system performance through better coordination, information-sharing, and assessment to achieve the goals of appropriate, equitable, efficient, and effective administration of justice for the nation.
Table of Contents
The State of the U.S. Court System Today
Court Technology and Practice Today
From Courts Today to Courts Tomorrow: Identifying and Prioritizing Innovation Needs in Technology, Policy, and Practice
Courts Advisory Panel Members
Courts Advisory Panel Pre-Meeting Questionnaire
Courts Advisory Panel Agenda
Full List of Court Needs
The research reported here was Sponsored by the National Institute of Justice and conducted within the Justice Policy Program, a part RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.
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