Court's need for translators jumps 75%
According to numbers provided by Office of Court Interpreter Services (OCIS), the number of days a Portuguese-speaking interpreter is required in the Edgartown District Court increased by 75 percent over a two-year period, from the beginning of fiscal year 2004 (July 1, 2003) to the end of fiscal year 2006 (June 30, 2006). The number of clients using translation services rose by 25 percent during the same period.
The sharply growing need for translation services is one measure of the impact on the Island's legal system of the changing demographics of the Island community.
The decision by the Oak Bluffs Police Department to produce a pamphlet in Portuguese reflects the growing demands on law enforcement due to the growth of the Island's non-English speaking Brazilian community.
Twice, and often three times, a month, an interpreter from OCIS comes to the Island to translate the district court proceedings.
District Court personnel schedule cases that may require an interpreter on the same day. At times, according to an OCIS spokesperson, there may be 30 or more Portuguese speakers who need translation services on a single day.
In FY06, the Edgartown court requested an interpreter 28 times. Twenty-six of those requests were for a Portuguese interpreter, and the other two were for Spanish and Mandarin speakers. In FY05, three of 21 requests were for Spanish while the rest were Portuguese, and in FY04 there were 15 Portuguese requests and one Burmese.
The Office of Court Interpreter Services, based out of the Massachusetts court system's administrative offices in Boston, corresponds with individual courts by e-mail and fax. When a person enters the Dukes County court - on any charge - and needs an interpreter, the defendant's lawyer notifies the court, which then contacts OCIS, according to scheduler Mark Barrette.
According to the Massachusetts General Laws chapter 221C section 2, "a non-English speaker, throughout a legal proceeding, shall have a right to the assistance of a qualified interpreter who shall be appointed by the judge." OCIS provides this service.
OCIS has 22 full-time interpreters on staff, as well as nearly 200 contracted interpreters. OCIS handles hundreds of requests for interpreters each week, Mr. Barrette said. In 2005, the office fulfilled approximately 90,000 requests for interpreters, and the numbers are growing. Eighty percent of the interpreter requests in Massachusetts are for Spanish language translations. The next most requested is Portuguese, which is rising dramatically, Mr. Barrette said during a telephone conversation in December.
"If it keeps on going the way it's going now, in the next five years it would be really close to Spanish," Mr. Barrette said of the need for Portuguese translators. He highlighted Malden, Westborough, Worcester, Marlborough, and Barnstable as specific places with a rise in Portuguese translating needs.
Staff and per diem interpreters are paid through the Trial Court budget, which is supplied by Massachusetts residents' tax dollars. The individual courts have no direct correlation to the salary of the interpreter, Mr. Barrette explained.
"It's money that comes from taxpayers and we are very diligent about using that money," Mr. Barrette said. "It's a very thin line we walk to make sure on the one hand people's rights are protected, but also to make sure that people's tax money is used in the appropriate manner."