Court Interpreters and the Political Economy of Bail in Three Arraignment Courts

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Criminal courts in the United States engage defendants with Limited English Proficiency on a regular basis. However, we know little about how court-appointed interpreters shape case-level routines and dispositions, nor how these interpreters navigate their immediate courtroom environment. We draw on observations of bail hearings (N = 647) conducted in 2015–16 in three arraignment courts in New York and New Jersey to map the practice and consequences of language interpretation. More specifically, we examine whether the use of an interpreter relates to indicators of judicial treatment and case disposition by bail type/amount, and explore more broadly how the presence of interpreters shapes the casework of other courtroom actors. Results from multivariate regression models indicate that cases with interpreters are associated with a more limited judicial review, a lower likelihood of unconditional release, and higher cash bonds. We discuss these findings in terms of evolving mechanisms of social control and the criminalization of disadvantaged populations.




Rengifo, A. F., Rouzbahani, D., & Peirce, J. (2020). Court Interpreters and the Political Economy of Bail in Three Arraignment Courts. Law and Policy, 42(3), 236–260.

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