By Alena Dondero, Juvenile Probation Officer, Juvenile Healing to Wellness Court, the Bishop Paiute Tribe
The Bishop Paiute Tribe, located east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in central California, is on track to open a Tribal Juvenile Healing to Wellness Court (TJHWC) in early 2021. That milestone will culminate an effort begun last year and marks the beginning of a new approach for dealing with the enduring problem of substance abuse that plagues our youth.
Alcohol and drug use have increased throughout the reservation, with deaths related to substance abuse tripling in the past 4 years. A TJHWC will provide Tribal youth who have committed a drug- or alcohol-related offense a culturally appropriate alternative to the judicial response offered by the Inyo County Probation Department. The new court will emphasize early intervention based on Tribal values to interrupt the cycle of substance abuse and judicial involvement. That cycle has robbed too many of our members of the promise of a productive life.
The effort to create a TJHWC received its first significant boost when the Bishop Paiute Tribe secured a 3-year, $350,000 grant from OJJDP in September 2019. I came on board as the Tribe’s first juvenile probation officer in May 2020 to develop and implement the policies and procedures for the new TJHWC, and to coordinate with the court's legal team and local law enforcement partners to establish a referral process for the court. The planning effort has been formidable, requiring the Bishop Paiute TJHWC's legal team and planning committee to learn how such courts typically operate on other reservations, while getting up to speed on the basics of complying with the requirements of a federal grant. Along the way, we received much-needed support from the staff of the Bishop Paiute Tribal Court.
Our team hit the ground running—even in the face of COVID-19—and we've dedicated ourselves to completing the guidance documents needed for the TJHWC to operate, such as a handbook for youth participants, a program brochure, and a variety of forms related to the processing of participants. The forms included referral, intake, and participant/parent agreement forms; a community service log; a progress report; a risk assessment; and forms related to the protection of participants' confidentiality and health records.
None of this would have been possible without the technical assistance offered by the OJJDP-funded Tribal Youth Resource Center. Anna Clough, the center’s lead for TJHWCs, was there every step of the way. She made sure the policies and procedures I drafted met all requirements for a TJHWC. The center always provided a quick response whenever I had a question. Its online resources, especially the Tribal Juvenile Healing to Wellness Handbook, also provided valuable information. Much of the support we received from the center came in the form of online training sessions tailored to the needs of grantees establishing a new TJHWC. The trainings typically were delivered by experts in TJHWCs or juvenile drug treatment courts, traditional healing practices, mental health, substance abuse treatment, trauma-informed care, and Tribal law enforcement.
We have greatly relied on the center for support in hashing out a collaborative referral process for juveniles with the Inyo County District Attorney, the county probation department, and the Superior Court of California for Inyo County. Fulfilling that effort required completing memorandums of understanding with each entity. Establishing the new court's jurisdiction required discussions with those local partners as well as the Bishop Paiute Tribal Court, the Tribe's attorney, and local law enforcement, including Tribal police, city of Bishop police, and the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office.
We now have a strong relationship with all our local partners, a hopeful sign as the TJHWC prepares to launch. We are now in the process of finalizing documents for the new program while awaiting associated changes to be made to our Tribal code. We’re also seeking spiritual leaders and mentors to work with juvenile participants, and coordinating with the Tribal Council on a plan for sharing details with the greater community about how the court will operate.
The Tribal Youth Resource Center, run by the Tribal Law and Policy Institute, provides technical and training assistance to federally recognized tribes and others with interests in supporting Tribal youth delinquency prevention, intervention or developing court-based programs in the lower 48 states. A Tribe or Tribal organization does not have to be an OJJDP grantee to access online resources or request training and technical assistance from the Tribal Youth Resource Center; any Tribe can request support through the center’s website.
The Resource Basket, operated by the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, provides training and technical assistance to OJJDP Tribal grantees in Alaska. Providers can request training support through the organization’s website.
Points of view or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.