Judicial Conference Approves Prisoner Case Filing and Judge Assistance Pilot Programs
Two pilot programs – one that will allow pro se prisoners to file certain federal court documents electronically from a kiosk in a prison and a second that will provide judicial assistance to select district courts with unusually high civil caseloads – were approved today by the Judicial Conference at its biannual meeting in Washington, D.C.
The one year joint pilot with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will provide pro se prisoners access to a digital kiosk in BOP facilities in order to file civil cases in the district and appellate courts participating in the pilot. The system will provide a one-way means for transmitting documents from the prisoner to the court, which would docket the filing in its Case Management/Electronic Case Files system. It is anticipated that up to 25 courts will participate in the pilot.
Pro se litigation comprises more than a quarter of the federal Judiciary’s civil caseload and two-thirds of all pro se litigation is initiated by prisoners. Currently, inmates mail filings to courts, which must process and scan the documents. The new e-filing process, which will accommodate typed or hand-written documents, is expected to save time and money for the courts and BOP.
The judicial pilot, approved today by the Judicial Conference, will take place in up to five circuits for three years. It is intended to assist district courts with high civil caseloads in obtaining long- term assistance from judges in courts in the same circuit with lower civil caseloads. This pilot differs from existing procedures for intercircuit and intracircuit assignments by facilitating a more robust use of intracircuit assignments through systematically pairing districts within a circuit in a targeted way.
The pilot program will be helpful, but will not eliminate the needs of the courts with the highest caseloads have for new judgeships and/or judicial vacancies to be filled, nor will it impact the filling of magistrate judge vacancies in the participating courts.
In other action, the Conference received an update on its space reduction program, which was adopted by the Conference in 2013 as a Judiciary-wide cost saving measure. The key component of this effort is to reduce court space nationwide by three percent by the end of Fiscal Year 2018. Judge D. Brooks Smith, chair of the Conference’s Space and Facilities Committee, reported to the Conference today that the courts have reached more than two-thirds of their overall target of reducing usable square footage by 870,305 square feet. This will result in an annual cost avoidance of approximately $15.5 million.
“In witnessing the commitment and follow-through by courts and court staff across the country, what has been most impressive is the spirit of cooperation, and sometimes even sacrifice, that has brought us to where we are now,” Judge Smith told the Conference. “All circuits have indicated that they plan to meet or exceed their circuit goals.”
The 26-member Judicial Conference is the policy-making body for the federal court system. By statute, the Chief Justice of the United States serves as its presiding officer and its members are the chief judges of the 13 courts of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade. The Conference meets twice a year to consider administrative and policy issues affecting the court system, and to make recommendations to Congress concerning legislation involving the Judicial Branch.
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