In this segment, Carrie Garrow and Charlene Jackson discuss common challenges experienced by Healing to Wellness Court Practitioners and offer programmatic advice. Carrie Garrow is the Chief Appellate Judge for the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Court. Charlene Jackson is an attorney in the Phoenix metropolitan area and a judge pro tem for several tribal jurisdictions. Both are consultants for the Tribal Law and Policy Institute. Included below is the podcast transcript.
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Precious Benally (PB): Hello, I’m Precious Benally, Senior Associate with the (background music fades out) Tribal Justice Exchange at the Center for Court Innovation. At the 4th Annual Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Enhancement Training, the Tribal Justice Exchange team sat down with Carrie Garrow and Charlene Jackson to discuss their experiences with Healing to Wellness Courts. Carrie Garrow is a trainer and the Chief Appellate Judge for the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Court. Charlene Jackson is an attorney in the Phoenix metropolitan area, a judge pro tem for several tribal jurisdictions, and a consultant for the Tribal Law and Policy Institute as well as the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. This first installment of a three-part Healing to Wellness Court podcast series explores challenges encountered by Healing to Wellness Court practitioners.
Charlene, let’s start with you. You are the former Chief Judge of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, which operates both an Adult and Juvenile Healing to Wellness Court. You also have experience working with different tribal jurisdictions as a judge pro tem and as a consultant for The Tribal Law and Policy Institute. What have you seen are the challenges facing Healing to Wellness Courts?
Charlene Jackson (CJ): Some of the biggest challenges I see are number one, tribal politics. It’s really hard to make change in this environment because it makes people uncomfortable. Everyone agrees that there is a problem, at least on the fundamental level, that yes, we have drug and alcohol rates that are pretty unacceptable out in Indian country. No one agrees on how to address those issues and more importantly, no one wants to take that first step. And I shouldn’t say no one, but it’s difficult to take that first step because it’s very hard. It requires people to say ‘we need to do something different than what we are doing now.’
The other challenge I see out in Indian country is a lack of resources. It’s very difficult to recruit professionals out into the rural communities where some of these resources are most significantly needed.
One of the other challenges that I that I failed to mention is that in Indian country, and I’m sure you’ve heard this, is the lack of sentencing authority. You have such a limited time to work with people for sometimes serious offenses. When you have just a small window and jurisdiction terminates, it makes it challenging, particularly in the instance where you have that small window and so an offense that maybe on the state side would carry a longer sentence carries such a short sentence in Indian country and if you have someone that’s in the throes of addiction and they think, “Do I do 30 days in jail or do I spend 18 months in this program?” Many times they’re going to do the 30 days in jail because then it’s done and it’s over with, or they get part-way through the program and they say, “ehh, I’ll just do my 30 days.”
PB: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing Healing to Wellness Court teams?
CJ: I think the biggest challenge is communication. We all represent different disciplines, the language is different. The biggest example I can think of that we went through at Fort McDowell was the term “assessment” and what it means. It means something different to the legal people than it does to the therapeutic people and we were using that term very openly and it became a big challenge because no one knew exactly what we were talking about until we finally said, “Wait a minute. What are we talking about when we talk about an assessment?” It wasn’t until we actually had to stop that conversation, say “Time out. You know, we’re having a problem here. What do you mean by assessment?” and the therapist said, “this is what an assessment means to us,” and then the legal people said, “this is what an assessment means to us,” so the challenge sometimes comes from the multidisciplinary approach in that we have different meanings for the same terminology and having to stop and take that time to ask those questions can be challenging itself because we all have our regular duties and responsibilities that we have to adhere to.
PB: Good team communication is crucial especially for interdisciplinary teams. Carrie, in your experience as a trainer and Chief Appellate Judge for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Court, what have you seen are the common traits of successful team communication?
Carrie Garrow (CG): To me the most successful teams have been willing to talk it out and sometimes willing to change as well, to compromise and say, “Okay, well, you know, normally this is the way I would do it, but this is causing a problem in the team and so let’s see if there’s something that I can do differently to make this, um, process go a little bit easier and focus on the participants, not just what I want.” and I think, to me, those have been the most successful teams that are willing to make that compromise to work together. Watching our own Healing to Wellness Court, they seem to participate really well together and willing to respect each other’s roles. And I think it just comes down to learning each other’s roles. Not to the extent that you can do it, but just so that you understand it and when things aren’t working well to talk about it; because it is challenging to work in a team environment, no matter what you’re doing.
PB: What is a common issue that complicates communication between interdisciplinary team members? What suggestions do you have for teams that are struggling with that issue?
CG: One issue that always comes up between teams is confidentiality and the rules can be different depending on your discipline and spending time sharing your rules and also your ethical guidelines, because each profession is different, so people understand where you’re coming from and then it’s easier to have that conversation instead of just arguing over what information that you’re sharing. So I think it’s important to do that kind of training on all different levels.
PB: What advice can you give to teams that communicate well with each other but perhaps don’t communicate efficiently?
CG: I have one court that we’ve managed to visit, I think, two or three times now and the first time we went there some feedback we gave to them, is “You know, you spend a lot of time in your staffings and your staffings are running over and so you’re not starting court on time. And although you’re having good conversations in your staffing, is there a way to be more prepared? When we happened to go back, you know, a couple of years later, they had these amazing forms that their coordinator had come up with that she provided, which was just a checklist, so the team knew before they went to their staffing, whether or not they’d gone to their treatment and whether they’ve gone to their AA and/or done whatever else they were supposed to do. And it was also very helpful, because the judge then had it on the bench, so when you do have ten or fifteen you’re not like, “Okay, now what’s the person and what was he doing?” And it’s just right there in front of you.
PB: Although the challenges and setbacks tend to be the things teams focus on, it’s also important to remember why we do this work. What keeps us going, Charlene?
CG: When you have someone that hasn’t had a period of sustained sobriety come to you and acknowledge, you know, in front of a group of people that they’re really happy because they made it a week sober and they’ve never had that experience before. And you start to see the changes that they’re making in their lives, then you realize it’s worth it.
Precious Benally (PB): Carrie and Charlene, thank you for taking the time to speak with the Tribal Justice Exchange team. To learn more about Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts, you can visit the Tribal Access to Justice Innovation website at(background music starts playing) www.tribaljustice.org. I’m Precious Benally, Senior Associate at the Center for Court Innovation, thank you for listening.