Latest News with VRI-Video Remote Interpretation

As you may all know, Angie Birchfield from IGA has been participating in the VRI Workstream committee since 2016. The participation in this work group has been a real eye opener on how this plan could affect our profession.

The main goal of VRI is to protect a defendant’s right to a speedy arraignment after they have been detained. The concern is that there are some defendants that speak rare languages and an interpreter may not be readily available to appear in person at the arraignment within the 48-hour time requirement. VRI would solve that problem by remotely bringing in an interpreter for the arraignment.

While that may be a reasonable explanation, the problem is that many court administrators and judges think that VRI will be the solve-all for whatever language access issue their courts may have. There are shortages of interpreters in several parts of the state and especially in areas of the Central Valley and Northern California. These are the locations that will be most affected by VRI, and that may include for Spanish language assignments.

The plan is to set up VRI centers within certain courthouses in certain geographic locations where the interpreters would sit in a booth and interpreter in courtrooms in different parts of the state. The geographical locations will include areas where the largest population of interpreters for certain languages are located, i.e. San Gabriel Valley and San Francisco for Mandarin/Cantonese; Sacramento for Hmong; Orange County for Vietnamese, etc.

The real concern is that this does not address the issue of very rare languages, for which this whole plan was created.  What does that mean? It means that those interpreters for rare languages will work out of their homes and interpret remotely when needed in a courtroom.

There are rules in place that VRI cannot be used except for shorter matters and arraignments. And VRI is not intended to replace an in-person interpreter. In other words, in-person interpretation is the priority.

Soon the VRI Pilot Project will begin and it will take place in 3 counties: Sacramento, Ventura and Merced. Angie Birchfield and Janet Hudec will be participating in the program so that they can see first-hand how this whole process will work.

In the meantime, we all need to pay close attention to this and make sure to not let it become a new norm. We call on all interpreters to be very diligent and speak up when they find themselves in this situation. Many of our colleagues are apprehensive about speaking up but this is our livelihood that we are talking about. We must be proactive.

We have been hearing that many interpreters have already been asked to interpret via VRI in the private sector in depositions. We must charge more to do VRI because it makes our job that much harder given the delay in the feeds, missing the visual cues, etc. It is much more challenging to interpret for someone when you are not sitting next to that person. Whether it is the attorney asking the questions or the LEP for whom you are interpreting.

VRI was widely used in the courts in Nebraska and recently the courts there have stopped its use altogether. They found that VRI was too expensive and there were many technical difficulties that made it very difficult for the users and required that techs be on hand to correct the problems.

Independent Contractors will be needed by the courts to cover the possible interpreter shortages.  And both Angie Birchfield and Janet Hudec have addressed the need to offer contractors more competitive pay in order to attract the interpreters.

We are in a holding pattern right now until the Pilot Program begins. We will keep everyone apprised as to its progress and we urge those of you that are currently interpreting for cases where VRI is being utilized to please contact us and give us your feedback.


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