City, courts to translate for immigrants, refugees

Influx in foreign speakers creating a linguistic problem, officials say.


Faced with an influx of immigrants and refugees into the region, Dayton’s municipal court system and some legal departments plan to translate vital documents into other common languages.

“Our goal for 2016 is to tackle some of the language issues we have,” said Ann Murray, the Dayton Municipal Court administrator.

Welcome Dayton in 2016 will assist with translating victim-information pamphlets and victim-notification letters from the Montgomery County prosecutor’s office into Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Chinese and Somali.

The city’s Welcome Dayton program also will help the court translate protection orders and sentence entries into the most commonly spoken foreign languages in the region.

It’s not clear yet how much the translation service will cost.

The expanded service is needed, officials say, because of the increase in foreign speakers, many who don’t understand the documents put before them, including criminal charges, pleas or conditions of probation.

The Dayton Municipal Court for years has offered some of its most important documents in Spanish.

But more recently, the courts have encountered an increase in defendants, victims and plaintiffs who struggle to understand English and hail from other places around the globe, including the Middle East, Russia, China and Africa.

“Over the past couple of years, we’re getting more of the Russian, the Turkish, the Swahili and a lot of different dialects,” Murray said.

The nation’s foreign-born population has grown 57 percent in the last decade, according to some estimates. About one in 15 Ohioans speak English “less than well.”

Local residents with limited English proficiency are provided translators when they appear in court, but the court orders they receive are in English.

The orders are translated verbally, but citizens do not get hard copies of documents in a language they can understand. That will change for some next year with the translation of sentence entries and protection orders into the most popular foreign languages that court employees encounter, Murray said.

“If we expect defendants to comply, they really need to understand what we are expecting them to comply with,” she said.

The Dayton prosecutor’s office also has teamed with Welcome Dayton to translate victim-notification communications and other informational documents.

Language barriers can make it hard or confusing for citizens to access needed services, and criminal defendants and victims have the right to understand what’s happening in their cases, said Melissa Bertolo, Welcome Dayton’s program coordinator.

Some legal forms must be in English so court staff can properly understand, process and input the information submitted, Bertolo said.

But victims and defendants need those records and documents translated for reference purposes, she said. Failure to follow a court order or terms of probation can lead to incarceration, property forfeiture and other punitive outcomes, officials said.

New policy

The push to convert key documents into foreign languages is an outgrowth of a language-access policy the city adopted earlier this year.

The policy states no citizens can be denied access to services for being limited in English proficiency. It also says Dayton will prioritize document translation.

Dayton has made great strides in improving language access, but across the region many services, agencies, organizations and governmental entities have struggled to keep up with an increasingly diverse community, said Jessica Ramos, an attorney with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality Inc. in Dayton.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act protects limited English proficient citizens from discrimination by any agency that receives federal funding, but there is a lack of regulation on translation and interpretation services outside of the state and federal legal systems, she said.

Ramos said the quality of services can be inadequate. Also, she said, language access is important during every stage of the legal process, beginning at the crime scene and continuing from the investigation to the prosecution to the sentencing.

“Courts need to continue to expand access to ensure that (limited English proficiency) individuals can fully participate in all stages, just as any English-speaker could,” she said.

‘Not just a Spanish community’

The stakes are particularly high in the court system, considering court orders and actions that are lost in translation can have a life-altering impact, said Christina Brownlee, Vocalink’s director of marketing.

The city of Dayton contracts with Vocalink to provide interpretation services for court proceedings. The Dayton company offers interpreting on site and over the phone, as well as written translation services for 160 languages.

This region is home to about 50 dialects, and Cincinnati likely has 70 to 80, the company said.

“The need for services is growing and language mixes are growing,” Brownlee said. “We’re not just a Spanish community anymore.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

8 vehicles, 1 injury in 2 crashes on I-75 South in Dayton during rush hour
8 vehicles, 1 injury in 2 crashes on I-75 South in Dayton during rush hour

Two separate vehicle accidents on I-75 South in Dayton during rush hour Friday evening sent one person to a hospital, left eight vehicles heavily damaged and clogged traffic.  The accidents were reported between 5:45 p.m. and 6 p.m., according to Montgomery County Regional Dispatch.  The first accident, near the Stanley Avenue exit, involved...
Number of sexual assaults reported at Wright Patt increases
Number of sexual assaults reported at Wright Patt increases

The number of sexual assaults reported at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has increased the past four years, with 83 reported since 2013, the Department of Defense said Friday. The Pentagon released the data for military installations around the world, including Wright-Patterson which is the largest single site-employer in Ohio with a workforce of...
Leonid meteor shower 2017: Here's how to see this weekend's celestial spectacle
Leonid meteor shower 2017: Here's how to see this weekend's celestial spectacle

If you're looking for a shooting star so you can make your wish come true, this weekend may just be your lucky opportunity. The Leonid meteor shower will peak this weekend, providing ideal viewing conditions for millions across the United States. With clear skies predicted by meteorologists in many parts of the country, even amateur stargazers should...
Get in the holiday spirit: 4 things to do this weekend in Springfield
Get in the holiday spirit: 4 things to do this weekend in Springfield

Looking for some things to do in your down time while you’re preparing for Thanksgiving next week? Here are four events in the greater Springfield area that might fit the bill. » READ MORE: Downtown Springfield’s Holiday in the City: 4 things to know 1. The Freedom Fund Banquet The Springfield chapter of the NAACP will host its third...
Why you shouldn’t ignore hand and wrist arthritis
Why you shouldn’t ignore hand and wrist arthritis

What starts out as a dull, deep aching pain in the hand may eventually lead to a less impressive golf swing or the inability to open a jar lid. ››RELATED: Older people should screen for Hepatitis C The progressive pain is known as arthritis in the hand and wrist, and if not caught and treated early could mean permanent loss...
More Stories