Litigants With Diverse Needs

Kings County Criminal Court Training - December 2011

In December 2011, over the course of two days and with the assistance of 50 volunteers, 90 Kings County Criminal Court attorneys, clerks, interpreters, and judges participated in the “Poverty Simulation” training program conducted by the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program. The goal of this training was to increase cooperation and team building while encouraging dialogue about the perception and treatment of people living in poverty.

During the simulation, participants were assigned roles as members in low or no income families. They then were asked to live four 15 minute simulated weeks during which they had to do all the things families normally do on a regular basis -- go to school or work, pay bills, grocery shop take care of emergencies, and so forth – essentially live life with the resources of those living at the poverty level. They do this by interacting with the various agencies, officials and retailers found in the community – the grocer, banker, teacher, policeman, etc. The different governmental agencies and community group roles were played by volunteers from organizations, various partners including Brooklyn Law School, the Center for Court Innovation, CUNY School of Law, Guardian Ad Litem Program, Hunter School of Social Work, RAP Program, VLFD Program, and Volunteer Lawyers Program, as well as current and retired court personnel.

The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program modified the simulation specifically for NYC Criminal Courts by creating a booking officer role and a central intake clerk role to simulate the experience of the people entering the Criminal Court. To work in tandem with these two new positions, an arraignment clerk role was also developed, which expanded the role of the judge and court. By redesigning the program for Criminal Court, the training was able to simulate the real life experiences that court employees have at work, further sensitizing them to the issues of those surviving on low incomes.

Comments from Participants | Comments from Volunteers


Comments from Participants 

“This was a valuable opportunity to work with other members of the court community in a different environment and really think about the choices that people with less means have to make on a day-to-day basis in order to survive.”

“...being in poverty can rob you of a voice in society.”

“I had new insights into the intense level of sustained chaos the impoverished have to cope with on a daily basis. Moreover, I was confronted with ethical and moral questions which blessedly were new to me, but sadly, something that the indigent must confront constantly.”

“It was a very enlightening experience and more exposure to the population that is truly challenged to survive. Should be made available to court employees.”

“BRAVO! I just wanted to say that today's program was quite good. I don't know if enjoy is the right word to describe the experience especially when one is talking about such a serious issue; but, I think that the program really makes an impression.”

“ I think that doing this with court personnel at all levels is really useful because it helps and it reminds all of us that in our interactions with the public, we cannot take people's personal situations for granted and we cannot be so judgmental without a sense of understanding.”


Comments from Volunteer 

“While my work brings me in contact with people faced with poverty and other adversity, it does not give me a window into the day-to-day challenges faced by the families of such individuals. The Poverty Simulation provided that extended insight, and the day-to-day struggles of such individuals."

"As a volunteer, it was great to see the impact on the participants - having to live with hardships that many poor families face.:

"I compliment the presenter, and the designers of the simulation itself, for creating a program environment that truly captures some of the urgency, and often helplessness, faced by those challenged by poverty in their day-to-day dealings in today's world."

"I was happy to learn that employees of the court were being educated on real-life poverty scenarios. Especially, as the population they interact with, and sometimes make life-changing decisions for, struggle with the issues surrounding poverty on a daily basis."

"I was just playing a part, but it really made me think about what people are going through. It made me ask myself "what would I do if I had children that needed to go to daycare? What would I do if I couldn't afford it?"

"I think it was great. I'd love to do it again. It was good to see the court personnel get involved."