Three young Boise men, all refugees from the African Republic of Tanzania, were arraigned on rape charges at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise on Friday afternoon. All of them needed an interpreter to understand the proceedings.
Idaho law requires the courts to provide an interpreter for any witness or party who doesn’t understand or speak English, or who has a physical disability which may prevent them from hearing or speaking English. Interpreters are paid by the district court.
The national language of Tanzania is Swahili. But how often is a Swahili interpreter needed for court hearings in Ada County?
Short answer: More often than you think.
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More than 3,000 court hearings in Ada County in calendar year 2018 required interpreters for 58 different languages, according to Idaho Supreme Court Administrative Director Sara Thomas.
Swahili interpreters were the third-most requested, she said. Specifically how many cases required a Swahili interpreter wasn’t available Friday afternoon.
The most requested were Spanish language interpreters, accounting for 45 percent of all requests. The county has two full-time and one part-time certified Spanish interpreters.
The second most requested were Arabic interpreters.
Ada County spent $144,136 for interpreters during fiscal year 2018. Additionally, the state spent $90,625 for interpreter services for Fourth District Court, which includes Ada, Valley, Boise and Elmore counties, during that time.
Additionally, the Idaho Supreme Court provides Video Remote Interpretation services statewide for other things, such as a person wanting to pay a ticket at a courthouse counter. The cost for those services was $19,670 in fiscal year 2018. For fiscal year 2019, $30,800 has been allocated.
An Idaho Supreme Court report to the Legislature included this data:
- Almost 11 percent of Idahoans over the age of 5 speak a language other than English, according to the 2016 American Community Survey.
- 90 languages are spoken in Idaho, the 2010 Census found.
- Primary languages of refugees settled in Idaho over the past five years: Arabic, Burmese, Farsi/Dari/Persian, Karen, Kinyarwandan, Nepali, Somali, Swahili and Tigrinya.