Place Category: Specialized Court Projects
Summary: Klamath Tribal Court hears cases involving Guardianship, Adoption, Eviction, Civil, Child Support and Juvenile. As part of a tribal/state collaboration, the Klamath Tribes Tribal exercises jurisdiction with the Klamath County Circuit Court for cases involving tribal youth. Established in 2009, the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court hears cases for tribal youth who would otherwise be processed in the state court system. The Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court, which hears a variety of cases, works with the tribal probation, education, culture and health departments to provide supervision and culturally-appropriate services to tribal youth.
The Klamath Tribes
2009 – present
Program Running Length:
Klamath Tribes in Chiloquin, Oregon
Michele Lyon, Clerk of Court
P: (541)783-2219 x 111
Klamath Tribal Court
116 E. Chocktoot St.
P.O box 1260
Chiloquin, OR 97624
Tribes in Chiloquin, Oregon
The Klamath Tribes currently provide services throughout Klamath County, Oregon. The Klamath Tribes have lived in the Klamath Basin since time immemorial. In 1864, the Klamath Tribes ceded more than 23 million acres of land and entered into the reservation era, retaining the right to hunt, fish and gather in safety on the lands “in perpetuity.” In 1954, the Klamath Tribes were terminated from federal recognition as a tribe by an act of congress. The end of federal recognition resulted in the tragic loss of their 18 million-acre reservation land base. In 1986, the Klamath Tribes regained federal recognition, however their reservation land base was not returned.
The Klamath Tribes are a confederation of three tribes: Klamaths, Modocs and Yahooskin Paiute. The Klamath Tribes have approximately 5314 enrolled members and most of the members live in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where they represent between four to five percent of the city’s population. Of the 5314 enrolled members, there are 882 minors, under the age of 18 years old.
In 2006, the Klamath Tribes received federal grant funding to establish the Klamath Tribal Court. During the initial start-up period, the Klamath Tribal Court received very few cases for juveniles, and court staff were concerned that the Klamath County Circuit Court could not address the needs of tribal youth. Court staff believed that providing culturally-informed services and supervision options would improve outcomes for tribal youth.Tribal youth are eligible for the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court if they are under the age of 18 and are enrolled in one of the three Klamath Tribes, or are a descendent of an enrolled tribal member or enrolled with another federally recognized tribe and living within Klamath County.Juvenile delinquency cases: When the Klamath Tribal Court first opened in 2006, it exercised jurisdiction over cases under the Indian Child Welfare Act. In 2007, it received a new grant to create the Klamath Juvenile Court in order to expand its jurisdiction to include juvenile delinquency.
During the next two years, the court processed a very low number of juvenile delinquency cases. Tribal court staff knew that many of the juvenile delinquency cases involving tribal youth were not being transferred from the Klamath County Circuit Court. Tribal court staff began working with tribal and county agencies to increase the number of tribal youth referrals to the Klamath Juvenile Court. This collaborative work resulted in a 2009 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Klamath Tribal Court, the Klamath Tribes Social Services Department, the Klamath County Juvenile Department, and the Klamath County Circuit Court.
The MOU supported a systematic transfer of tribal youth juvenile delinquency and status offender cases from the county court to the tribal court. County agencies, including the circuit court, began screening juvenile cases more carefully for Native parties. The MOU stated that the Klamath County Circuit Court would transfer cases to the tribal court for supervision and services, but that the Klamath County Circuit Court would reserve the right to enter the final disposition. County and tribal agencies are expected to create information-sharing protocols and meet regularly to discuss the status of ongoing cases. The MOU has been adapted to meet the changing needs of tribal and state agencies. As a result of this collaboration, the Klamath Juvenile Court has increased its caseload for tribal youth.
Juvenile substance abuse cases: In 2010, court staff in both county and tribal agencies agreed that tribal youth with substance abuse issues needed a culturally-informed treatment program. Tribal youth in mainstream treatment programs were frustrated that they were not receiving help to reconnect with their cultural identity or heritage, and that none of the treatment providers incorporated healing or any other cultural values into the treatment process. In response, county and tribal partners developed a culturally-informed substance abuse treatment program for tribal youth that would be offered by the tribal health department.
As the agencies worked to develop culturally-informed treatment options, tribal leaders pushed to expand the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court’s jurisdiction to include juvenile cases that involved the use of drugs or alcohol. The Klamath County Circuit Court agreed to transfer juvenile substance abuse cases to the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court for supervision. The Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court was able to schedule more frequent hearings, which allowed it to closely monitor compliance with probation. It was also able to include a youth’s family in the proceedings, and could reinforce cultural norms and expectations for tribal youth.
The Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court now refers most tribal youth clients to a tribally-run outpatient treatment program operated by the tribal health department. Inpatient substance abuse treatment programming had been previously offered by the tribal health department through funding by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but this funding has been eliminated. Tribal youth with severe addiction issues that require inpatient treatment are now referred to a general treatment provider that does not offer culturally-informed treatment.
Current jurisdiction: In 2011, the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court expanded its jurisdiction to include truancy and school expulsion. As a result, tribal youth have access to tribal programs that address obstacles to success, and can avoid the public school district’s zero tolerance policy, under which certain prescribed offenses result in automatic expulsion. This expansion has led to the development of strong partnerships between the tribal court, tribal probation, and school officials throughout Klamath County.The Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court aims to connect tribal youth with culturally–informed treatment and supervision services and to ensure that tribal youth access available tribal and county resources.The Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court primarily handles juvenile delinquency, school expulsion, truancy, and Minor in Possession (MIP), Disorderly Conduct, and Theft cases. Many of its cases involve the possession of drugs and/or alcohol. All participants, regardless of charges, must appear at compliance review hearings held at the courthouse. Tribal youth are cited through Circuit Court and placed on County Probation, then offered to transfer to Tribal Court. Once the youth is transferred into Tribal Court they will agree to the Tribal Court stipulations, if they successfully complete the Tribal Court agreement, the case in County Court is dismissed.
All tribal youth participants with charges related to drugs or alcohol are required to participate in behavioral health services, substance abuse or alcohol treatment. Additional treatment and monitoring may be ordered by the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court, depending on the charge. Substance abuse treatment is also offered to youth who do not have drug-related charges but who voluntarily discuss substance abuse issues with court staff, parents or guardians, or other service providers. In addition, the court can mandate youth to attend anger management classes or a four-week smoking cessation course provided by Lutheran Family Services.The Judicial Director oversees the day-to-day operations of the Klamath Tribes Court, with the assistance of a tribal Clerk of Court. A tribal court judge oversees the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court. There is one tribal probation officer that serves as the truancy counselor and monitor school attendance for court-involved youth and Probation Officer.Eligibility Criteria: Any tribal child, whether formally enrolled or a descendant of an enrolled member, who has an active case in the county court is eligible to have the case transferred to the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court.
Referral Process: Tribal youth cases are first heard in the Klamath County Circuit Court, where all youth are offered legal counsel, although many choose to represent themselves or speak through their parents. County judges screen youth for tribal membership and offer tribal youth the opportunity to participate in the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court, at which point the tribal and county courts share joint jurisdiction. Tribal youth and their guardians appear thereafter in the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court, and the youths are assigned a tribal probation officer. In some cases, youth who have been cited for truancy and have missed their circuit court appearances are charged with contempt of court. These youth are also referred to the tribal Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court.
Tribal Health & Family Services provides substance abuse screening for the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court to determine whether treatment might be needed. Some participants are screened prior to their first appearance in Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court because, at the time of referral to tribal court, the county circuit court suggests they get screened at tribal health as soon as possible. In that case, the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court can make informed decisions about a client’s needs at the first court appearance.
The Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court may refer a case back to the Klamath County Circuit Court if the tribal health department cannot address the client’s specific needs, such as with mental health counselling or extreme levels of addiction, or if the youth was accused of a sex crime.
Supervision and Compliance: Tribal youth are supervised by a tribal probation officer, who undertakes to coordinate with the county probation department. Drug testing is performed by probation and the treatment providers. The youth is visited at home and at school, and there is frequent contact between the court, the parents and school staff. Youth placed in out-of-town treatment facilities speak multiple times a week with their probation officers, counselors, and the principals of their schools. In addition, every school in Klamath County designates employees to assist with supervision by communicating regularly with the court about ongoing cases.
Tribal youth who comply with the mandates of the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court do not return to the county circuit court. Instead, the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court sends a letter to the circuit court recommending to have the charges dismissed. In cases where a tribal youth would otherwise face expulsion in the circuit court, the student is referred to the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court program for the year. The youth can stay in school as long as he or she is compliant with the tribal court, and at the end of the year the charges are dismissed.
Termination Criteria: In order to complete probation and have their charges dismissed, Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court participants must: stay in school, comply with probation, attend court, and pass drug screens. The Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court does file probation violations or contempt charges in the Klamath County Circuit Court to extend the term of probation when necessary. They can also add detention days to the term, to be used at the discretion of the tribal court. The length and terms of probation depend on the charge. For youth caught with a controlled or illegal substance while in school, probation lasts a full year.Most recently, the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court received a second OJJDP Tribal Youth Program grant in 2016. The program is called the Juvenile Healing to Wellness Court. Services will be implemented beginning October 2018 for the JH2W. The BIA provides some funding through the BIA One-Time Funding.The Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court collaborates closely with the Klamath Tribal Health & Family Services, Behavioral Health, Klamath County Circuit Court, public schools, Juvenile Probation department, and treatment agencies.
Referrals for tribal youth are sent from Klamath County Juvenile Probation, Klamath County Schools, Tribal and local behavioral health and prevention services.The Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court attributes its success to establishing a close working relationship between tribal court and networking partners . Having strong collaborative efforts have allowed the courts to seamlessly transfer cases between the two jurisdictions. Tribal Probation Officers work closely with the County Probation Officers to identify Tribal Youth and ensure that our Tribal youth are given the opportunity to work within the tribe to resolve their legal issues. There is a strong team in place to ensure that the services that are needed for the youth are made available and in cases where local services unavailable there is a collaboration to find or develop the services needed.There are some challenges that the Tribal Court faces which include the lack of public knowledge about the program and the benefits it can provide for the tribal youth in our area. A lack of knowledge can be detrimental not only to the youth but also to the community. Tribal participation is what can make the program successful and help the youth reconnect with their heritage and community. With limited participation it can be difficult to develop a program to its full potential. Only with the growth of community support will the program become self-sustaining and allow for a successful and healthy partnership between the Tribal community and the Tribal courts.The goal of the tribal court is to ensure that the tribal youth learn the importance of their cultural heritage while completing the terms set forth by the courts. Tribal probationers learn to reconnect with their history and learn about the connection they can have with their families, their community, and their ancestors. The youth may also learn the life skills needed to lead a healthy lifestyle and how to connect with services when needed.The Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court served approximately 242 cases since the court has opened in 2009.The Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court conducts self-evaluation through a number of quarterly, annual, and semiannual grant reports. These reports contain data on case processing, types and frequency of charges, modalities of treatment, recidivism rates, and staff trainings.
The court has expanded the types of charges it can process and has also increased access to services for tribal youth.Tribal administrators have expressed support for the Klamath Tribes Juvenile Court. The court has also received positive feedback from tribal members who appreciate how the court has increased support, monitoring, and services for tribal youth. Parents continue to express their preference that their children participate in tribal court, where they feel the children are welcomed and better understood.The Klamath Tribal Court works with Juveniles who are of Native descent and have been placed on probation for criminal activity, status offenses, or truancy issues. The youth range in the ages between 13-19 and have requested to be in Tribal Probation rather than County Probation.
The Tribal youth follow the same guidelines in Tribal Court as they would in County Court with one very important exception, the tribal youth also have a cultural aspect to the terms set for each youth. The requirement for tribal youth is to attend and participate in Tribal events to help them to reconnect to their tribe and their culture, which has been a missing piece for many of the youth.
A Tribal youth was struggling with marijuana and truancy issues when they were placed on probation. The youth was transferred to Tribal Court at the request of a relative. This youth was dealing with intense family issues and having a difficult time at school. The youth stated that they would use marijuana to try to forget and relax. The youth was placed in counseling through the Tribe and was court ordered to follow all guidelines of the court. Through great counselors, diligent supervision the youth was able to begin healing and became a healthy and mature Tribal adolescent who is involved in healthy activities such as sports and they have begun cooking again which was their passion before their emotional turmoil.
There many cases with similar success and who deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments. Confidentiality is held in the highest regard in the Tribal Court system but the families and the Tribal Courts know who they are and how far they have come. Their accomplishments are noted and they continue to do well.
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