Healing to Wellness Court

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe's Healing to Wellness Court provides offenders an opportunity to access tribally-run alcohol or substance abuse rehabilitation services while under tribal court supervision. Based on the 10 Key Components of Tribal Drug Courts, the tribe's Healing to Wellness Court uses a four-phase treatment process, along with community supervision, regular review hearings, and graduated sanctions for non-compliance. The court collaborates with non-tribal agencies including the Assistant U.S. Attorney, state courts, city courts, and the federal and state probation offices. Treatment and support services for clients are provided by tribal agencies. Upon completion of the healing to wellness court program, charges may be reduced or dismissed.

Program Running Length: September 2010 - present

Location: The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe is headquartered in Akwesasne, New York.

Land Characteristics: The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s land is divided by the international border between the United States and Canada along the Saint Lawrence River.

The Mohawk Indian Reservation, also known by its Mohawk name Akwesasne, is located in New York, Ontario and Quebec.  Of the four districts of Akwesasne, the portion in New York is known as Hogansburg and is bordered by the towns of Fort Covington, Bombay, Brasher, and Massena. Two square miles of the six square mile reservation are comprised of water. Tribal members on the U.S. side of the territory are governed by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council. The northern portions of Akwesasne are located in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec and those residents are governed by the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.  

Although each territory has its own governing body, which deal with the governments in each country, the Mohawk consider the entire territory as one entity, and tribal members pass freely across the international boundary. The two tribal councils work alongside a third tribal governing body, the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs, which is a traditionally-run government that follows the teachings of the Great Law of Peace. It is the oldest form of government at Akwesasne.

The tribal governments share jurisdiction with the State of New York, the United States, and the Town of Bombay on the U. S. side of the border, while on the Canadian side with the Canadian federal government, and the provincial governments of Quebec and Ontario.

Population: The combined territories of Akwesasne have an estimated 13,000 residents, with an estimated 6,000 plus residing on what is deemed the U.S. portion

“She changed my life.” - Participant, when introducing the program coordinator.
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Problem to be Addressed

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe was concerned with substance abuse addiction among tribal members. Because of the tribe's geographic location, drug smuggling along the U.S. and Canadian border provided tribal members with increased access to illegal drugs. The tribal court judge and other stakeholders created a Healing to Wellness Court to address the community's substance abuse problems.

Target Population

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe's Healing to Wellness Court serves tribal members with substance abuse and addiction problems that have led to criminal behavior.

Program History

The coordinator for the Healing to Wellness Court was hired during the Court's early planning phases in January 2010. The Healing to Wellness Court began accepting referrals in September 2010. At that time, referrals to the Healing to Wellness program came only from the Tribal Police. As the program developed, the program coordinator conducted interviews with potential participants and met with service providers to explore ways to improve and expand the referral process.

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Program Goals and Objectives

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Healing to Wellness Court promotes healthy living in the community. It encourages individuals with substance abuse addictions to remain abstinent, maintain sobriety, and reconnect with family, community, and the tribe. The court incorporates cultural traditions for rehabilitation and healing.

The Healing to Wellness Court actively seeks to enhance the program’s cultural components and to involve the community in its programming.

Program Design

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Healing to Wellness Court uses the Healing to Wellness Court Model, based on the 10 Key Components of Tribal Drug Courts. The court follows a standard four-phase treatment process: 1) Orientation and Assessment; 2) Stabilization and Cognitive Restructuring; 3) Transition; and 4) Maintenance.

The court imposes graduated sanctions for non-compliance, which include: curfew; essay writing; mandatory attendance at seven meetings in seven days; GPS ankle monitoring; house arrest; and jail sanctions. The court’s sanction policy allows for individualized sanctions that address a client’s personal struggles. These sanctions use behavior modification assignments to teach clients to be selfless, honest, and dependable. The court additionally requires all clients to complete community service hours to progress through the four phases.

A team of staff members from various tribal agencies meets regularly to review Healing to Wellness Court cases. The Healing to Wellness Court Team includes: a police officer, a mental health service provider, an inpatient alcohol and substance abuse counselor, an outpatient alcohol and substance abuse counselor, a nurse practitioner, a social services representative, the tribal court attorney, the Healing to Wellness Court coordinator, the tribal court judge, and a representative from the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, the Program Manager from the Justice Program, and the Deputy Chief of Police from Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service. Non-tribal justice stakeholders may attend the Healing to Wellness Court team meetings when reviewing cases that involve their agencies. The Healing to Wellness Court coordinator organizes and facilitates the staffing meetings, which are held prior to regularly scheduled client compliance review hearings.

The Healing to Wellness Court collaborates with a variety of non-tribal justice partners in order to facilitate case referrals, coordinated supervision, and jail sanctions. These partners include the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York, the U.S. Federal Probation Office, the Franklin County district attorney’s office, and Franklin County Probation department.

The Healing to Wellness Court includes a voluntary cultural component in its programming. Cultural activities include sweats, smudging, and indigenous medicine.  The court allows a sweat to substitute for one weekly drug treatment meeting because of its spiritually and physically cleansing elements.

Program Administration

The Healing to Wellness Court is run by the Healing to Wellness Court coordinator and is presided over by the Chief Judge of the Saint Regis Mohawk Court. Both are directly employed by the tribe. The Healing to Wellness Court team provides additional support as needed.

Case Flow Process

Eligibility Criteria

Since the program is now tribally funded, and therefore not held to the requirements typical of federally funded programs, staff created relatively broad eligibility criteria. To be eligible, one must: be a member of or eligible for membership in the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, or be a member of another federally recognized Indian Tribe; be at least 16 years of age (18 years of age for federal referral); have an identifiable use, abuse or dependence to alcohol or other drugs; be willing to participate in the Healing to Wellness Court; and have a charge that qualifies the individual for participation. Those charges may be drug and narcotic charges, alcohol use and dependency related charges, or non-violent offenses committed while under the influence.

Referral Process

The Healing to Wellness Court receives referrals from tribal, federal, state and local agencies. The referral process is not limited to the legal system, individuals can self-refer as can any concerned family or community member. Upon referral, the individual schedules a comprehensive evaluation. Once the evaluation is completed, the coordinator submits a summary report to the team for review to determine if the client will be accepted into the program. 

Supervision and Compliance

The Healing to Wellness Court coordinator monitors clients to ensure compliance with program requirements. The coordinator meets regularly with court clients, conducts urine screens, makes home visits, and monitors curfew and GSP ankle monitors. Clients who enter the Healing to Wellness program on probation in Franklin County remain on probation throughout the program. In these cases, Franklin County Probation and the coordinator work together in monitoring compliance. 

Graduation Criteria

Clients graduate from the Healing to Wellness Court after they have completed the four phases of the treatment program, consistently test clean for illegal drugs, and are actively engaged in recovery. The Healing to Wellness Court team considers each client’s individual progress when determining if a client is ready to graduate. Some factors that the team may consider are restitution or community service, family support structure, involvement in school or work, and a personal commitment to sobriety. The Healing to Wellness Court team may terminate a client from the program if the client violates the Healing to Wellness Court contract, fails to engage in treatment, or absconds.

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The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe provides funding for the Healing to Wellness Court program and staff.

Technical Assistance

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Court sought technical assistance during the planning and implementation of their Healing to Wellness Court. Tribal staff members attended the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) annual training conference in the summer of 2010 to learn about Healing to Wellness Courts. They also completed the online Healing to Wellness training modules from the National Drug Court Institute (NDCI).

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe sought assistance from several other tribes and state drug courts during planning and implementation of their Healing to Wellness Court. The joint-jurisdiction Wellness Court run by the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Tribal Court and Cass County District Court in Minnesota provided a model of tribal/state collaboration for the tribal court to emulate. The St. Lawrence County and Franklin County drug courts provided information and assistance to the Healing to Wellness Court Coordinator, particularly during the court’s planning phase.

Carrie Garrow and Joseph Flies-Away, consultants from the Tribal Law and Policy Institute, offered technical assistance and provided a process evaluation of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Healing to Wellness Court.


Key partners during the planning phase of the Healing to Wellness Court included: the Tribal Police Chief, tribal substance abuse treatment providers and mental health service providers, Saint Regis Mohawk Health Services, the tribe’s Department of Social Services, and the Mohawk Tribal Council.

The court has collaborated with the Akwesasne Justice Program and the Akwesasne Mohawk Police to formalize information-sharing with the Canadian justice system. This partnership has facilitated the exchange of information regarding the criminal histories of their clients and has established procedures for home visits across jurisdictions.

The Franklin County Department of Probation serves as another essential partner for Healing to Wellness Court clients who are mandated to community supervision.

Lastly, the court has a Memorandum of Understanding with the residential substance abuse treatment provider, the Partridge House, which is one of the only Native-run alcohol and chemical dependency inpatient treatment facilities in Indian Country.  

Factors Contributing to Success

Tribal leadership was supportive of the Healing to Wellness Court’s mission and goals during the planning period and continued to provide institutional support as the Healing to Wellness Court was implemented. Tribal leaders had confidence that professionals from the tribal community could develop an effective program and provide high quality services for offenders with substance abuse problems.

The formation of strong partnerships with tribal and non-tribal agencies has been a key to the success of the Healing to Wellness Court. The tribal court has stressed the importance of effective communication and information-sharing across jurisdictions.


One challenge the Healing to Wellness Court faced during the planning phase was coordinating an off-site healing to wellness court team training. Some tribal departments were unable to send staff off-site due to lack of staff coverage that would have affected the health and safety of the tribal community. Other staff could not commit to certain dates provided by the technical assistance provider. As a result, off-site training was not available to the Healing to Wellness Court team during the planning phase, which team members believe would have enhanced planning efforts.

Lessons Learned

The Healing to Wellness Court staff have learned to be flexible in their application of the Healing to Wellness model to meet the overall needs of the tribal community and the individual needs of clients.

The Healing to Wellness Court staff emphasize the importance of building effective partnerships with non-tribal agencies by maintaining frequent communication, offering and accepting assistance, and talking openly about goals and expectations.

Lastly, the program has taken a problem-solving approach to addressing the legal issues that affect tribal members.  For example, some clients did not understand how to resolve driver’s license suspensions or fines, so the judge held a pro-bono workshop for clients to discuss the legal mechanics of lifting the suspension. This additional support helps to remove barriers to success for clients.

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Number Served

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Healing to Wellness Court has the capacity to engage 20 – 25 clients at a time.

Program Effectiveness

The Healing to Wellness Court was the subject of a process evaluation by Carrie Garrow and Joseph Flies-Away from the Tribal Law and Policy Institute. More information can be learned by contacting the Healing to Wellness Court coordinator directly.

Community Response

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe community is supportive of the Healing to Wellness Court program. The coordinator and the judge are often approached by tribal members whose relatives have gone through the program to express their deep gratitude for the court. The families of program participants have formed close relationships with the Healing to Wellness Court coordinator as they work together to support tribal members who are working toward sobriety

Success Stories

The Healing to Wellness Court coordinator unexpectedly met a client and his grandmother outside of court one day. Referring to the coordinator, the client told his grandmother, “She changed my life.”

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