Place Category: Specialized Court Projects
Summary: The Yurok Wellness Court (YWC) was established in 2009. The YWC includes adult, family, and juvenile drug court concepts and adheres to the approach set forth in the “10 Key Components” of the Tribal Healing to Wellness Court. The target population includes enrolled Yurok tribal members and parents or care givers of an enrolled Yurok tribal member (for dependency cases). Potential applicants must have a current non-violent substance related charge(s) in Humboldt County, Del Norte County, and/or Tribal Court. For dependency cases, applicants must have a current child welfare case as a direct result of substance abuse. The YWC provides a multidisciplinary team phased-approach to case staffing, ongoing judicial interaction, random and frequent drug testing, cultural intervention practices, appropriate sanctions and incentives, case management, and substance abuse treatment services. These services are anchored by the encouragement of the Yurok Tribal Judge who holds the participants personally accountable in a culturally responsive and respectful manner.
Yurok Wellness Court (YWC)
Program Running Length:
2009 – Present
Phone: (707) 482-1350 ext. 1335
Fax: (707) 482-0105
Yurok Wellness Court
230 Klamath Blvd.
P.O. Box 1027
Klamath, CA 95548
The Tribe’s headquarters are in Klamath, California.
The Yurok Reservation comprises roughly 85 square miles 1-mile on either side of the Klamath River, from the mouth of the River at the Pacific coast, to 44 miles upstream to the confluence with the Trinity River. The Reservation encompasses land in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties in Northern California.
Approximately 6,500 enrolled members.
The goal of the YWC is to provide a path to healing for non-violent Yurok offenders affected by drugs and/or alcohol through an intensive substance abuse treatment program to improve family, community, and cultural involvement, to promote healthy life choices, and to reduce criminal recidivism. As a result of overlapping jurisdictions with Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, the YWC often exercises concurrent jurisdiction over drug/alcohol related offenses that involve Yurok Tribal Members to apply interventions that meet the cultural and spiritual needs of Yurok Tribal Members.Enrolled Yurok Tribal Member (juvenile or adult) or the parent of an enroll-able Yurok Tribal Member (for dependency cases); Drug and/or alcohol related charge(s) and/or a substance-abusing adult involved with the family dependency court as a result of child abuse and neglect issues in Humboldt, Del Norte, and/or Tribal Court; and No sexual and/or Violent Offenders.In 2009, the Yurok Tribe created its Wellness Court, which addresses substance abuse among community members by combining traditional values of restoration and healing often with evidence-based practices from drug courts. Like other Tribal Wellness Courts (or Healing to Wellness Courts) around the country, the Yurok Wellness Court uses a non-adversarial team approach to link participants with substance abuse treatment, supportive services, and court monitoring to promote recovery and community reintegration. The program further integrates unique aspects of Yurok cultural values and spirituality to better suit the needs of its participants and help further integrate members into the Yurok community.To reduce alcohol and other substance abuse-related crimes/behaviors by providing treatment planning, case management, and court monitoring of Yurok offenders; To expand access to concurrent jurisdiction over drug related criminal cases that involve Yurok Tribal Members in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties; To assist Yurok offenders in the reintegration process back into their Community/Village; and to apply interventions that meet the cultural and spiritual needs of Yurok Tribal Members
Potential clients are identified by self-referral or by program staff within the State or Tribe’s justice system. Tribal members will then petition the Yurok Tribal Court and submit to its jurisdiction. Both Humboldt and Del Norte Counties provide for the joint supervision of participants, respectively, and jurisdiction over cases from the two counties can be transferred to the Yurok Tribal Court. Under this agreement, the Yurok Tribal Court is responsible for compliance monitoring and the reporting of any violations to the respective county court. The YWC provides treatment assessments/planning, case management, and court monitoring. Residential care and transitional housing are available for those needing such services. The focus of the YWC is to reintegrate tribal members into the Yurok community. To do so, the YWC establishes a plan for each program participant with a weekly schedule consisting of daily activities intended to give back to the community, be responsible within the cultural context of the Tribe, and including participation in tribal gatherings and ceremonies when possible.The Yurok Wellness Court team is comprised of the Chief Judge, prosecutor, case manager, probation officer, social workers, and other partner agencies. At the judge’s discretion, tribal elders or cultural representatives are appointed on a case-by-case basis. The Wellness Court uses a multidisciplinary team approach to support participants. The Court provides regular judicial interaction, random drug testing, substance abuse treatment, supportive services, and cultural interventions.
The Yurok Tribal Court learns about tribal members’ involvement in the county court system in several ways. Often, a county court official will call the Tribal Court to inform them of a tribal member’s case. In addition, the Tribal Court routinely monitors county court calendars for cases involving tribal members. In some instances, tribal members themselves may alert the Tribal Court about a pending case.
Once a case is identified, the Tribal Court may petition the county court to transfer the case or to exercise concurrent jurisdiction in the Tribal Court for the purpose of supervision and services. If the county court agrees, it transfers the case to the Tribal Court but may retain ultimate jurisdiction for the final disposition of the case. Upon transfer, the defendant enters the tribal Wellness Court, which is designed to help tribal members address their underlying substance abuse/trauma issues and achieve healing. The Wellness Court is typically a one-year program, but it can be extended or shortened on a case-by-case basis.
Supervision and Compliance
The defendant appears monthly in front of the Tribal Court for updates on their progress and treatment. The defendant also appears before the state court every six months where such appearances are subject to graduated monitoring. There is very little interaction between the defendant and the state probation. Instead, Tribal Court officials appear with the tribal member in state court but the proceedings function more like a probation report. In reporting back to the state court, the Tribal case manager informs the state probation officer of any issue that arises and both parties may collaborate on ways to figure the out the situation.
If the participant does not complete his or her treatment plan within the ordered timeline the YWC may extend the timeline, on a case-by-case basis, to allow for successful completion of the plan, or refer the case back to the DA’s office for sentencing.Instituted in 2009 with funding from the DOJ and BJA. A lapse in funding forced the court to narrow its focus to youth for some time. However, the court recently received a CTAS grant through the BJA, allowing them to re-expand their focus to include both adults and youth.The staff engages in ongoing training in Alcohol and Other Drugs. The court also receives ongoing assistance from the Northern California Tribal Court Coalition which meets to seek funding opportunities, discuss shared interests and partnerships, and to meet regularly to discuss best practices.The Yurok Wellness Court has established close relationships with Humboldt and Del Norte County District Attorney’ Offices, Probation, Public Defenders, and Judges who have shown a willingness to transfer defendants into the YWC in accordance with the existing MOUs. The YWC coordinates with the appropriate Department of Probation to conduct assessments and determine jurisdiction.Fostering a sense of trust between the Yurok Tribal Court system and the county courts was integral to the success of the YWC. The YWC focused upon its capacity and expertise to monitor, supervise, and treat tribal offenders before approaching the two counties with a joint-jurisdictional plan. Through on-going training in best practices, the YWC was able to gain credibility with the county courts. Most important was the strong relationships and respect county court judges had for the Yurok Tribe Chief Judge who had previously served as a San Francisco Superior Court Commissioner.As with many rural locations, transportation and large distances between locations has made it difficult to coordinate programming, especially among youth participants. Although the Yurok reservation has one small community center, two churches, one baseball field, tourism trades and a new youth center (remodeled section of an existing building) financed by the Yurok Tribe to include all the children in the community, youth activities are scarce. With the nearest city located twenty (20) miles away only accessible by single highway, transporting children is very challenging. The distance also impacts the youth’s ability and motivation to attend group meetings, thus compromising their progress in the court. This distance also results in the staff dedicating additional time to host one-on-one meetings with them.
It has also been difficult to ensure school staff are well trained and can help keep the juveniles out of the wellness court. For example, the program receives calls from the schools when a youth is having behavioral issues. Often times both the school staff and the student need “coaching” on how to de-escalate the situation. During one instance, staff was called about a peer to peer conflict. The principal had “history” on the “problem child” whom she was calling about. Staff asked if the child was given an opportunity to apologize and the principal said she had not. Staff suggested the child be given the opportunity and agreed to drive the twenty (20) miles to pick the child up and bring her home. Staff arrived to find the situation had resolved itself, as the child apologized. On two other occasions two different children at different times were put in hand-cuffs, a technique considered to be in alignment with the “school to prison pipeline”. Additionally, the term “compliance” remains in the vocabulary of school staff which demonstrates the continued use of School to Prison Pipeline language.
Limited staff capacity has also been a challenge. It has made it difficult to provide the most up-to-date training and limited mental health funding impacts the resources available for both county workers and the Native population. In the Del Norte county area, resources are scarce for both the county staff and the Native population, resulting in longer wait-lists or tele-psych sessions.To start small at first to understand where your biggest challenges are. When we first began operation we wanted to be able to help everyone, but it was not realistic or feasible for the clients or staff. Make sure there is documents and processes in place so that the programs can continue even if you do experience change over in staff and resources.136 clients have participated since the Yurok Wellness Court’s inception in 2009. There have been roughly equal numbers of male and female participants in the YWC program. Of those participants approximately 29% of the cases are referred to YWC from Humboldt County while the vast majority of cases – 77% — come from Del Norte County.Of 136 participants, 23 completed their probation requirements while 92 were terminated from the program. 20 participants have stayed clean and sober. (these numbers are based on a March 4, 2015 presentation and may need to be updated/checked)There has been strong community support for the Yurok Wellness Court. Every tribal member is affected by trauma. As a result, the tribe has experienced high rates of drugs and/or alcohol use and has been severely impacted by the opioid crisis. However, many tribal members know that they can turn to the Court and are comforted by the fact that it is a non-judgmental encouraging place for individuals.Taos Proctor, 32, is a wellness court client. Though Judge Abinanti pokes him harshly with a long finger during a court break and quips to a visitor that he has “the manners of a stump,” she is fiercely proud of him. Pulled into the meth life, he was committed to a county boys’ ranch at 16. Next came the California Youth Authority and prison. Released at 25, he bounced in and out of jail before he found himself facing a third strike. With help from the Tribal Court’s civil access attorney, he pleaded to a lesser count after spending time in Wellness Court. It marked the first time Del Norte County Superior Court Judge William H. Follett agreed to hand a felony case to wellness court as a condition of pre-sentencing release, and then probation.
Bobby Jones, a client in a family reunification case with the county court, entered the YWC with the belief that all that was needed for him to be reunited with his children was and ability to comply with the demands of the court system. However, after time in YWC, Bobby came to realize that the challenge lay not in his ability to comply with the system, but in his ability to be a good father for his children once he was reunited. As a result of becoming part of the YWC, Bobby was able to shift his focus from fighting the “system” to seeking out the resources necessary to be a good parent.
A minor was in truancy while attending high school out of his district. YWC stepped in and worked with the Dean, the child and the parents to intervene. The child was faced with the challenge of improving his performance in school and was given the autonomy to do so. At first, he had a few set-backs, but YWC worked alongside him and his parents to explore other options. It was decided that homeschooling, along with additionally probation requirements, were the best fit for the child. He was also encouraged to attend cultural ceremonies and activities. In the end, he developed healthy relationships with other Native youth and changed the direction of his life – completed the twelve (12) months of probation, saved monies for a truck, paid fines and is seeking his drivers’ license to pursue employment.
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