Williamsburg, VA (February 26, 2021) – Today, a group of America’s top criminal justice experts began meeting to address justice inequalities in rural communities. Research shows rural Americans are more likely than urban residents to be jailed, overdose, and lack access to substance abuse and mental health care and public health services. The new Rural Justice Collaborative (RJC) will identify solutions and help rural communities implement them over the next three years. This innovative initiative is funded by the State Justice Initiative (SJI) and recently launched an online resource center. http://www.ruraljusticecollaborative.org/

What is the Rural Justice Collaborative?
The RJC is growing from a select group of high performing justice partners in rural communities to an inclusive collaborative of justice experts, and their treatment partners, working together to identify and replicate rural criminal justice best practices.  The group boasts the country’s most innovative rural justice system leaders, including, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and treatment providers.

The RJC priority focus areas are:

  1. Increasing access to behavioral health treatment
  2. Reducing victimization
  3. Facilitating employment/educational opportunities for justice involved individuals
  4. Eliminating barriers of access to justice
  5. Reducing incarceration
  6. Facilitating reentry
  7. Reducing the number of children in foster care due to substance use disorders

Sarah A. Ford, Legal Director at the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network (www.scvanlegal.org), was selected to join the Collaborative. “Access to justice initiatives are not a “one size fits all” solution for each community.  Increasing access for rural communities, particularly for rural crime victims, is essential to justice reform and ensuring that rural does not mean out of reach for essential services and resources. I’m thrilled to help bring the victims’ perspective to the Collaborative, as well as the experience and successes we’ve explored to connect crime victims and service providers through SCVAN’s legal website, mobile app, and Victims’ Rights Centers.”

Rural Solutions for Rural Problems
Proposed rural justice reforms often emanate from urban centers. SJI Director, Jonathan Mattiello, noted, “The programs and methods developed from large courts are often not models for rural courts because they do not always account for the geographic barriers in rural areas, or resonate with key aspects of rural culture.”

The RJC pioneers a new model centered on rural leaders to developing solutions to rural problems by focusing not on what is wrong in their communities but what is working that can be replicated.

Replicating What Works
In the first year, the collaborative will identify “innovation sites.” These are locations with proven rural justice programs that increase access to justice, improve family outcomes, and reduce reoffending rates. Members will research successful initiatives which range from programs that provide substance use and mental health treatment for underserved communities to efforts that reduce the number of children in foster care. “We’re going to find the best of the best and develop a framework so other courts and communities can model them,” said Kristina Bryant, the National Center for State Courts RJC project director.

Once the RJC identifies innovation sites, the group will create educational materials, and an online resource center. Innovation sites will also offer visits and regional conferences with in-person and virtual attendance options. The RJC will provide a vast knowledge pool filled with actionable content which individual communities may not have the resources to compile on their own. “These coaching resources will allow rural community leaders to quickly get up to speed on best practices and avoid missteps so they can launch their own successful initiatives,” said Bryant.

National RJC Partners
The National Center for State Courts partnered with Rulo Strategies, an organization that facilitates collaborative community projects, to launch the collaborative. Rulo Strategies founder Tara Kunkel said, “We know that many rural community leaders have found innovative solutions to their complex problems. But there has been no nationally concerted effort for them to share what they know with others in their position. We are thrilled to be able to help them solve that problem.”

About the National Center for State Courts
The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit court organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation’s state courts. Learn more at ncsc.org.

About Rulo Strategies
Rulo Strategies is a woman-owned business focused on supporting and evaluating initiatives designed to foster collaboration between diverse stakeholders with distinct but complementary missions. Founder Tara Kunkel served as a Senior Policy Advisor to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) where she advised on the policy direction of all opioid-related and overdose prevention initiatives. Learn more at rulostrategies.com.

About the State Justice Institute
The State Justice Institute (SJI) was established by federal law in 1984 to award grants to improve the quality of justice in state courts, and foster innovative, efficient solutions to common issues faced by all courts.  SJI is a non-profit corporation governed by an 11-member Board of Directors appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  Learn more at sji.gov.