With the development of the Tulalip Tribes Police Department since retrocession in 1997, the Tulalip Tribes Court System has experienced numerous obstacles: tripled case load in the past few years, rampant substance abuse, and geographically isolated Tribal services and resources. As of 2003, 56% of all offenders were repeat offenders and 50% of offenders were testing positive for drugs.
The Tulalip Tribes Court System is not adequately staffed to provide monitoring, enforcement, and prevention measures needed to address the many offenders that are in the custody of the system. The Tulalip Tribes lack a detention facility and must contract services with another jurisdiction, making it difficult for the Tulalip Tribes Court System to maintain legal authority over Tulalip offenders. In order to take a more holistic approach to rehabilitating offenders while maximizing the limited resources available, the Tulalip Tribes Court System established its Alternative Sentencing Program.
On a policy level, the Tulalip Tribes Court System sought a means of developing and institutionalizing culturally based care for community members who are chemically dependant and committing crimes. This cultural emphasis was not drawn from commonly known talking circles and sweathouses, or even behaviors that are traditional but no longer practiced; rather, the Court System modeled its program after social and familial dynamics still practiced today. They envisioned a program that would integrate various problem-solving techniques common in communities and families. This program uses interdisciplinary approaches, strict rule enforcement, and patience to establish a community of adults empowered and educated to make healthy autonomous decisions for themselves, their families, and the Tulalip Tribe as a whole. This goal required crafting a type of indigenous jurisprudence: mental, physical, and spiritual health of the offender became the target of the Tulalip Tribe Court System’s Alternative Sentencing Progam, with judges acting as advisors as much as enforcers.
The Alternative Sentencing Program was planned and intiated by an oversight committee made up of directors, managers, and staff from Tribal programs, Tribal Court judges and personnel, and Tribal Law Enforcement personnel. The Tribal Court also hired a full-time Case Management Officer with law enforcement education and experience to identify and maximize the relationships, services, and resources currently available for a comprehensive approach to rehabilitation. By working in conjunction with the Tribe’s Health and Social Services, Education, and Employment personnel, the Oversight Planning Committee was able to formulate eligibility requirements for offenders to receive alternative sentencing.
The next step was expansion of the Court System’s Electronic Home Monitoring program with an upgrade of GPS tracking. The use of GPS tracking devices allows the courts greater ability to move offenders from one location to another while still maintaining care, control, and custody of the offenders. They also permit program workers to promote and utilize current resources that might otherwise not be available to offenders, including chemical and alcohol rehabilitation, counseling services, mental health services, educational opportunities, job skills training, and life skills assistance.
The Tribe is one of eight regional nations planning a new jail facility that incorporates treatment services, Indian Ridge, which is exclusively for Tribal members. In addition to treatment programs and related medical care, Indian Ridge would offer mental health counseling, anger management courses, job training, and education courses. Most participants will be completing the treatment programs while serving a jail sentence. The Tulalip Tribe Court System’s drug court, known as Wellness Court, is also within its first year of operation. It is a long-term group counseling program that will supplement treatment by facilitating personal development and community responsibility. Furthermore, plans are in process to lease a housing facility to provide short-term transitional housing opportunities to offenders prior to re-entry into the community.
The power to enforce laws, induce order, and adjudicate disputes is an essential component of tribal sovereignty. The sustainability of this project will come from community support, dedicated leadership, and further enhancements such as the Wellness court and the Indian Ridge treatment facility. This project creates an in-house comprehensive approach to offender rehabilitation that includes electronic home monitoring, chemical and alcohol assessments with appropriate treatment options, education, job skills training, and life skills assistance that are culturally sensitive and relevant.