Access to Justice Map Underscores Disparities in Legal Access Across the State
As part of its goal to help identify and better understand the difficulties people face in navigating the justice system, the Center for Access to Justice has produced an online Access to Justice map of Georgia. The map provides insight into attorney representation and other factors that affect how, and if, Georgia residents are able to gain ready access to the justice system.
“This map provides a data-driven picture of how the ability to access justice varies dramatically across the state, and particularly between the metropolitan areas and more rural counties,” said Lauren Sudeall Lucas, center director and associate professor of law.
For each Georgia county, the interactive map shows its population and its number of active lawyers, as well as which Atlanta Legal Aid Society or Georgia Legal Services office serves the area. The map also shows percentages of: households that live near public transit, households that do not have access to a vehicle, households with home Internet access; the population that does not speak English at home and population at or below the poverty level.
“Depicting the data visually provides a powerful demonstration of the ways in which one’s geographic location and other demographic data may have a significant impact on the ability to utilize available resources in resolving civil legal issues,” Lucas said.
The map was built in partnership with Georgia Institute of Technology Professor of Biological Sciences Joshua Weitz and Chad Wigington, a Ph.D. student in Bioinformatics in the Weitz group.
“We were approached by Professor Weitz, who after recent exposure to some of the justice system’s failings, was interested in providing pro bono assistance,” said Darcy Meals, center assistant director. “This project provided a good vehicle to benefit from his team’s computational and analytical skills and would not have been possible without their help.”
The data were compiled from a number of sources, including The State Bar of Georgia, the Self Represented Litigants Network, census data from the 2014 American Community Survey, 2015 statistics from the Federal Communications Commission, and data from the Center for Neighborhood Technology. The Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP) and the Atlanta Legal Aid Society (ALAS) also assisted with the project, providing 2016 data about their programs. Georgia State Law student and center Fellow Jobena Hill (J.D. ’19) assisted in compiling the data.
“The so-called Justice Gap has been well documented nationwide, but this map underscores some of the ways in which it plays out across our state,” Meals said. “Six Georgia counties do not have a single private lawyer, and all six of those counties have a poverty rate well above the national average. Not having access to an attorney or to the resources to seek alternative assistance puts residents of those counties at a significant disadvantage in navigating the civil justice system.”
Other projects the center is working on include a study on the civil legal needs of indigent criminal defendants as part of a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, with Georgia State’s Sociology and Criminal Justice and Criminology departments, and a report documenting student observations of state criminal court in Mississippi.
“This map — and others like it — are an important tool, but also serve as a reminder of how much work needs to be done to ensure that all Georgians have equal access to justice,” Lucas said.
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