Increasing access to justice must happen on a large scale but it also occurs in small actions in communities.
I am currently working with IBJ in Cambodia but lived in Chicago, IL in the United States for the past five years. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is the third largest school district in the US, serving over 390,000 students in 660 schools and has some of the highest suspension and expulsion rates. Some schools give more suspensions than children attending the school. Others hand out expulsions at an incredible rate.
Schools with the highest rates of suspension and expulsion are overwhelmingly under-resourced, overcrowded, and attended by low-income students of color. Many of these students are not receiving the services they are entitled to under the law. When students are suspended or expelled, they often miss class work and assignments, which may lead to them falling behind, and eventually dropping out of school. For many students, out-of-school discipline means they are at home alone or on the streets. Youth who are suspended, expelled, or pushed out of school are more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system, a phenomenon known as the "School to Prison Pipeline."
Along with a group of fellow law students, we began Stand Up For Each Other, Chicago! (SUFEO) to teach youth ways to exercise their statutory right to appeal suspensions and clear their record. Our goal was to train law students to assist both students and parents in becoming aware of their rights and legal resources, walk them through the appeal process, and teach them how to communicate with administration effectively.
Alleviating the education justice system through proper legal representation and knowledge can help to secure longer term effects on the state criminal justice system by decreasing the school to prison pipeline. So while to others, suspension may not seem like a big deal in securing access to justice, these micro-actions can have a macro effect.
OpenTrial (www.opentrial.org) works to substantially reduce the scope for harassment, corruption, violence and political influence in legal systems and legal processes, particularly in developing countries; and in doing so give individuals, families, communities and entire societies, access to justice.
Ours is a bottom-up approach aimed at enhancing rights awareness and legal system transparency and accountability to the 'end users', i.e. society. We harness modern technology to do this by complementing conventional means of communicating and conventional media. We focus on: (i) Information provision, ease of comprehension (in local languages, legalese minimised), facilities to report rights violations, and data collection/analysis to identify flaws and tackle them with focus; (ii) Databases, smartphone apps, social media, websites, etc.that will complement posters, leaflets, press articles, focus-group discussions, radio/t.v. programmes, music and culturally appropriate media. (iii) Ensuring a concerted and collaborative effort to achieve enduring and maximum impact. We encourage the local legal fraternity (including judges, police and prosecutors), government and local NGOs, to coordinate a concerted effort aided by international players.
We welcome contact via our OpenTrial website or this forum from those wishing to participate.