Alaska Justice Forum 24(2), Summer 2007 | UAA Justice Forum
Alaska Justice Forum 24(2), Summer 2007
"Literacy and the Courts" by Katherine Alteneder
The findings of the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy reveal that the average level of literacy in the United States is not particularly high. Though startling, the survey's findings help explain why so many employees, clients and customers in everyday situations often fail to complete forms accurately, do not provide information in a timely manner, do not demonstrate knowledge of written material that has been provided, or do not follow instructions. Most are not being oppositional, lazy or uncooperative; rather, the average American simply cannot process the information provided. Within the courts, this crisis in literacy has been amplified by the rise of self-represented litigants trying to navigate a system designed for use by lawyers. This article discusses literacy in relation to self-representation in Alaska courts, particularly in domestic relationship cases, which have a high proportion of self-represented litigants.
Literacy levels among the U.S. prison population are generally lower than among the general population, with levels for various minority prison populations lower than for Caucasian inmates. The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy tested a nationwide sample of over 19,000 individuals aged 16 and older in the nation’s households and state and federal prisons. Results specific to the prison population are discussed in a recently released report from the National Center for Education Statistics: “Literacy Behind Bars,” which are summarized in this article. A sidebar story examines literacy and education among Alaska inmates.