Washington, D.C. — One of the Biden administration’s first moves next year should be to restore the Office for Access to Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), according to a new column from the Center for American Progress.
Created during the Obama administration, the office played a key role in making sure the justice system delivers outcomes that are fair and accessible to all — regardless of wealth and status — and demonstrated the importance of federal leadership to improve America’s legal system.
In addition to lifting up the often overlooked perspective of public defenders in federal policy making and criminal justice programming, the office also focused on connecting federal programs to individuals navigating the civil justice system in cases related to debt collection, eviction, domestic violence, and other civil justice issues.
But the Trump administration closed the office and rolled back many of its successes. Those included federal guidance to eliminate excessive fines and fees in state and local courts and guidance to state criminal justice systems about using available federal funds to support public defense and courts, not just police and prosecutors.
“The Biden administration should act quickly to restore programs that would improve the civil and criminal justice systems,” said Maggie Jo Buchanan, director of Legal Progress at CAP and co-author of the column. “Reestablishing the Office for Access to Justice is a key step in making sure federal programs are designed to help people effectively navigate our complex legal system and secure the legal help they need. That’s a critical goal that has only become more clear as Americans across the country have struggled to survive the Trump administration’s devastating mismanagement of the pandemic.”
Read the column: “The Need to Rebuild the DOJ Office for Access to Justice” by Maggie Jo Buchanan, Maha Jweied, and Karen A. Lash
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