Language Interpretation Services in Kern County, California

At a Glance:

Location: Kern County, California

Date: 2020

Vital Condition: Basic Needs for Health and Safety, Meaningful Work and Wealth

Determinants of Health: healthcare access, employment, justice system, neighborhood safety, neighborhood safety

Affected Population: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, Children and Youth, English Language Learners

Research Methods: Survey, Qualitative research, Literature review

Community Types: rural

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California Rural Legal Assistance Inc. conducted an HIA to examine the health impacts on indigenous Mexican residents of Kern County, California, of access to a trained interpreter during interactions with law enforcement.

This HIA found that language barriers create significant challenges for indigenous Mexican residents of Kern County, California, particularly reducing residents’ likelihood of reporting crimes if they do not have access to an interpreter. Further, in the absence of professional interpreters, children often serve as ad hoc interpreters, which research demonstrates is harmful to the child and can lead to critical misunderstandings. Taken together, these problems erode trust and create anxiety among residents, while underreporting and high numbers of unsolved crimes affect community safety. 

Based on these findings, the report recommends that county law enforcement agencies take steps to ensure that their language policies comport with federal and state laws. Specifically, they should assess language needs in the community and update or create plans, including detailed instructions on how agency staff can meet those needs; provide adequate training for staff on how to implement the language policies; train staff on the needs of immigrant communities to help build trust; prohibit the use of children or other untrained bilingual community members as interpreters; and create data capture tools to track outcomes of providing broader language access.


This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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