State's attorney's office speaks their language, Hispanics find

Bilingual coordinator, Web site help growing community get information

September 19, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

In an effort to ensure that Baltimore's growing Hispanic population has access to the state's attorney's programs and services, the office now translates part of its Web site into Spanish.

And public announcements about indictments, convictions and other judicial matters will be translated into Spanish upon request, said Haydee Rodriguez, a district court community coordinator for the state's attorney's office.

Rodriguez said State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy has met with the Hispanic community to "hear their concerns," and wants to "ensure that we are as inclusive as possible in our outreach to the citizens of Baltimore."

"The initial step right now is making sure that our information is also available in Spanish, basic information that describes the state's attorney's office, and information that talks about special programs we have, such as the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, the Family Bereavement Center and information including tips for victims and witnesses," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez, who is bilingual and earned a law degree from the University of Maryland, said she assists the office's eight other district court community coordinators when problems arise in the Spanish-speaking community.

"I am the one who's bilingual, and I will be working along with my peers in helping them field questions or concerns that come out of their district from members of the Hispanic community who are not bilingual," Rodriguez said.

According to the 2000 census, 11,036 Hispanic people live in Baltimore. But Hector L. Torres, director of the Hispanic Apostolate/Immigration Legal Services, estimates that the number is at least twice that.

The Spanish-language Web site began about two months ago, Rodriguez said. "What we will encourage the Hispanic community to do is print out the information and disseminate it to the people they serve, be it churches, church leaders, nonprofit organizations, even medical centers if needed," she said.

(The Web site in Spanish is at www.stattorney.org/welcome_ spanish.htm.)

Not everyone has access to computers. So Rodriguez is available to answer calls and help people directly, she said.

She said she has been averaging about three to five calls a week, mostly from women. The nature of the calls varies, although many are related to domestic violence, she said.

"We do see quite a bit of that, unfortunately, and I don't want to generalize, but most of the women who do call are not bilingual," Rodriguez said.

"That in turn complicates their ability to have access to the system in a way that gives them as much information as possible so that they're not easily intimidated by their husbands or boyfriends into dropping charges. And we have seen that," he said.

Jessamy also hopes the effort to reach out to the Hispanic community will cut down on the number of people who arrive in court without an interpreter.

Effort praised

Torres applauded the efforts by the state's attorney's office.

"I've been part of an advisory group to the City Council, and one of the efforts we've been involved in is trying to make sure that populations of foreign peoples in Baltimore are provided with information in their native language," Torres said. "Baltimore City obviously has a very large Hispanic population, as well as the Korean community. These populations need the ability to access the information that's available to the community at large."

Torres cautioned, however, that one person dealing directly with the Hispanic community from the state's attorney's office may not be sufficient.

"Obviously," he said, "if they are providing a large number of services to the immigrants, resources have to be made available."

"We've seen it not happen in a lot of cases. A person will be hired to provide those kind of services to the community and just be overwhelmed. I think it's important for agencies to keep a close eye on what's needed," Torres said.

Taking classes

Stephanie Royster, a policy analyst in the state's attorney's office, said while Rodriguez is the only bilingual community coordinator, a city prosecutor who is bilingual attends Hispanic Bar Association meetings and "brings back some of the issues from the legal community regarding things that we need to be sensitive of and aware of."

She also said that several prosecutors are taking Spanish classes at a Southeast Baltimore church.

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