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Tribal Courts Expand ‘Healing to Wellness’ Rehabilitation Programs

to an AP News report on August 20, 2023, tribal courts—the judicial system in Native American communities—increasingly offer holistic ‘healing to wellness’ (H2W) programs for criminal defendants. Similar to restorative justice initiatives, H2W programs provide substance abuse treatment and counseling during a term of incarceration, followed by support services such as residential housing, employment assistance and community supervision after release.

Native Americans are disproportionately represented in federal and state prisons. H2W programs are designed to address their poverty, substance abuse and historical cultural trauma. The U.S. Dept. of Justice provided around $9.4 million for H2W programs from 2020 to 2022—a fraction of federal spending on incarceration.

The Native American Indian Court Judges Association reports that around one-third of approximately 320 tribal court systems nationwide use some form of H2W programs. Kristina Pacheco, with the Tribal Law and Policy Initiative, said some tribes are expanding the programs into juvenile and family courts. “The thought and the concept will be different from tribe to tribe,” she allowed, adding that the goal is that tribal people will “not hurt, not suffer.”

Like drug courts, H2W programs typically accept defendants charged with non-violent crimes or misdemeanors. Participating courts may be found in Washington’s Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Quapaw Nation in Oklahoma, as well as the Kenaitze Indian Tribe in Alaska. In some cases, the programs are also offered in adjacent state or county lockups to both Native American and non-Native defendants.

“When we look at holistic approaches, we think, what’s going to better help the community in [the] long term?” said Quapaw Nation tribal court administrator Corissa Millard. “Is sending someone away for a three-year punishment going to be it? Will they reoffend once they get out? Or do you want to try to fix the problem before it escalates?”

Non-tribal courts could adopt H2W programs, too, rather than perpetuating punitive and retributive approaches so firmly entrenched in our nation’s criminal justice system.  


Source: AP News

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