Kent Co. prosecutor adds translation program to phone line

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent County Prosecutor’s Office has a new phone feature that will assist with language barriers.

When you call the office, there are now nine language options, allowing more people to have clear communication on their case.

The new system connects callers to someone who speaks their language with a click of a button.

“It saves the client time, it saves us time and ultimately it provides better services to the public,” said Brandy Johnson, administer for the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office.

During the pandemic, the prosecutor’s office was working on ways to improve diversity, equity and inclusion. So, they thought to start at the front desk.

Under the old system, a client would call in, the receptionist would assess if an interpreter was needed and the convoluted process would began.

“It could take you 10 to 15 minutes just to try to get that conversation going,” Johnson said. “Meanwhile, sometimes they would hang up.”

That can cause big legal problems.

Ben O’Hearn, an attorney at Migrant Legal Aid, said most of his clients speak Spanish. He says previously by the time information was translated, the client may have missed key court deadlines.

That can cause long-term effects because in some cases, undocumented victims can be eligible for a U visa, relief from deportation and potentially a green card or citizenship. But that can only happen if they cooperate with law enforcement.

“If they miss key deadlines when they are working with the prosecution, then the prosecutor’s office might believe that they have not been cooperative,” O’Hearn explained.

The prosecutor’s office partnered with Language Line and now before the conversation begins, a caller is connected to someone they can communicate with.

“I think it’s a really good step to help them have more access to the justice system,” O’Hearn said.

The program launched last week and features English, Spanish, Nepali, Somali, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Farsi, Korean and French.

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