New York courts explore alternative hours to enhance access and reduce backlogs
New York’s courts are increasingly turning to alternative operating hours to improve access for families and reduce the backlog exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has been at the forefront, providing guidance and expertise on implementing such systems effectively.
The traditional 8 a.m.-to-5 p.m. court service hours are giving way to a model that includes nights, early mornings, and weekends. This shift aims to address a range of issues from reducing the backlog of cases to accommodating the schedules of court users.
Alternative hours not only help in managing dockets and decreasing delays in arraignments but also foster public trust and confidence in the judicial system.
Such innovative approaches are necessary, as highlighted by the 2022 “State of State Courts” survey, which revealed an all-time low in positive public perception of state courts. Expanding service hours could be a step toward addressing the 43 percent of individuals who currently believe that courts are failing to provide equal justice.
For the average New Yorker, attending court during conventional hours can be challenging, considering the demands of work and family. NCSC’s data indicate that logistical hurdles like travel distance, work commitments, transportation, disabilities, and childcare are significant barriers to court access.
By offering flexible scheduling, alternative hours can alleviate these challenges.
Courts that have implemented alternative service models have noted substantial benefits. For example, the Milwaukee County’s night court and Cook County’s after-hours drug court have been effective in reducing processing times and backlogs.
Implementing alternative hours involves considerations such as obtaining approval, staffing and compensation, but surveys by NCSC and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) suggest that these challenges are more surmountable than expected.
The positive outcomes from courts with alternative hours underscore the benefits of such a model for both the courts and court users, leading to improved efficiency and access.
To delve deeper into this subject and explore the NCSC’s Alternative Court Hours Toolkit, interested parties are invited to participate in the upcoming “Family-Centered Fridays” session on Nov. 17. The event, led by court management consultant Andy Wirkus, will offer insights into the benefits and implementation of alternative court hours.
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