Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), left, and Al Franken (D-MN) introduced legislation on October 22 as an avenue to fixing a broken criminal justice system.

Senators Tester & Franken Push Tribal Healing with Criminal Justice Reform Bill


The prosecution of alcohol and drug offenses, also known as non-violent crimes, have contributed mightily to the overcrowding of U.S. prisons. This is an issue the Native American community fully understands. The judicial system and its ways of dealing with non-violent crimes has been an issue for years, and recently Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) called the criminal justice system “broken.”

Tester, along with fellow Senator Al Franken (D-MN) introduced new legislation on October 22 that has criminal justice reform at the heart of it. The legislation will further establish and fund treatment courts in Indian country.

“Our criminal justice system is broken. Jails are crowded and offenders aren’t getting the help they need to get back on their feet,” said Tester, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “This bill will establish more treatment courts so we can decrease the number of repeat offenders and save taxpayers money. Treatment courts have worked successfully across the nation and it is time to expand this success throughout Indian country.”

The Office of National Drug Control Policy states treatment courts have reduced re-arrest rates by 84 percent one year after someone has been released.

In Albuquerque, Metro Court Judge Maria Dominguez, who brought the Urban Native American Drug Court (UNADC) back after a hiatus, said the programs recidivism rate is 5.5 percent.

Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts would hold offenders accountable while rehabilitating them through treatment, counseling and community support under extensive supervision.

A similar program is addressing the issue in Albuquerque, New Mexico – the UNADC encourages its Native participants to reconnect with their tribal traditions and ceremonies. The Urban Native American Drug Court in Albuquerque is a fully state-funded court that is directed specifically for Natives, as reported by ICTMN.

RELATED: Repeat DWI Offenders Steered Straight With Traditional Healing

“The idea is to basically help them heal so they can be functional, actually more than functional, but productive members of society,” Daniel Apodaca, Public Defender for the Native American Drug Court said in a recent story for ICTMN.

According to a 2009 Indian Health Service report, 20 percent of Native American adults needed treatment of drug or alcohol abuse while drug-related deaths saw a drastic increase by 206 percent since 1979. Alcohol and drugs were involved in 35 percent of violent crimes in Indian country.

“Indian country has been deprived of the resources they need to adequately address the drug and alcohol abuse problem in their communities,” said Franken, a member of the SCIA. “Our legislation would support tribes as they establish treatment courts and help move Native Americans struggling with addiction from the criminal justice system to the road to recovery.”

The Tester and Franken announcement states that there are currently about 70 Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts operating throughout Indian country without a steady source of funding. This bill will allocate “$10 million annually for the Department of Justice to administer grants to establish and maintain Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts.”

You can read Tester and Franken’s bill here.

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