The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation: Creating a Tribal Juvenile Code Based on Values and Culture

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation received their Tribal Youth Program Grant in 2010 with the goal of revising the Tribes’ Juvenile Justice Code. The advisory board’s overarching aim is to create a Tribal juvenile code that is based on Colville Tribal values and culture. Colville is pursuing a holistic approach based on principles of restorative justice. In contrast to punishment administered through the courts, restorative justice focuses upon the needs of all affected individuals and the surrounding community, encouraging participation, dialogue, healing and reparation whenever possible and appropriate, so as to reconnect youth with the community and reduce the rate of recidivism.

One goal is to reduce the number of Native youth referred to state Juvenile/Superior Court for truancy related issues. 980 truancy cases were documented between March, 2009, and December, 2014. Colville is using community-based programs like the Peacemaker Circle and Community Truancy Boards, as well as developing an At Risk portion in the Juvenile Code so as to separate status offenses from actual delinquency cases. The object is ensuring that underlying issues are identified and to prevent all youth from being treated as offenders. Ultimately, the TYP grant’s Advisory Board wishes to implement culturally appropriate and supportive remedies so the Tribal youth can avoid the formal court process.

One option Colville is investigating is to use the Peacemaker Circle as an alternative to the court system. The Peacemaker concept was first introduced within the Colville Tribes many years ago, and was established as a working program seven years ago. The Peacemaker Circle is comprised of volunteer Tribal elders from throughout the reservation, some of whom have extensive experience with social work. The Peacemakers help people who are in trouble by trying to put their difficulties in a larger context. This includes helping them to appreciate their Tribal roots, as well as bringing in all the people in that person’s life that make up their personal constellation. The idea is to bring the person to face him or herself and be aware of their part in events, and to understand the support they have around them. In this way the Peacemaker Circle is very different from the court, where the adversarial structure often leads individuals to believe that it is better to take a position of defense and denial. In contrast, the Peacemakers try to motivate participants past the defensive mode. The Peacemakers encourage individuals to recognize their own behavior and responsibilities. The first task assigned to someone coming before the Circle is to identify their family and research their connections of kinship and friendship.

The Peacemaker Circle is an independent program separate from the court. Bringing a case before the Peacemakers is voluntary and open to anybody, as long as all parties involved agree to the process. No legal advocates are involved, and the discussion is kept between the parties directly affected. As part of the juvenile code revision, the Advisory Board is attempting to establish a process for identifying which cases are appropriate to bring before the Peacemakers, and what protocols should govern the interaction between the formal processes of the court and the traditional processes of the Peacemakers.

Presently the State of Washington exercises concurrent jurisdiction over delinquency cases under P.L. 280. The Advisory Board is preparing the juvenile code in anticipation of exercising greater jurisdiction. The Tribes already possess the necessary physical infrastructure of a juvenile detention facility and an established court, and the juvenile code embodies the Tribes’ effort to establish the institutional infrastructure as well. So far, the Peacemaker Circle has seen its greatest success with adult domestic violence cases. However, once the TYP Grant was announced, the Peacemakers did not hesitate at the idea of incorporating youth into the program as well.

While the role of the Peacemakers is still being defined, the Community Truancy Board (CTB) has already exhibited success in addressing truancy cases. The CTB currently operates within two of the state school districts serving Tribal youth (Omak and Inchelium), and heard 12 cases between October, 2014, and January, 2015, thus reducing the number of youth referred to the district court. The CTB is comprised of 5-6 persons, including mental health experts, educators, and other community members, as well as a Tribal representative who can help and direct the youth. The CTB is available to all youth within the school district it serves, not just Native youth. The program was initiated in October, 2012, as part of the Colville K-12 Program, and is funded by the Colville Tribal government. The K-12 Program consists of a variety of smaller programs, including assigning an Educational Support Advocate to the different school districts on the reservation to help identify tribal youth at risk of truancy issues and providing upstream interventions, such as mentoring, mental health support, and other social supports.

The CTB’s holistic approach was implemented by the school districts in collaboration with the Tribes’ K-12 program in response to the state’s stringent truancy laws, which require that youth be referred to the superior court after 7-10 unexcused absences, and subjects them to up to ten days of detention. There is strong incentive to keep youth out of the courts, because once the court comes into play, the state court retains jurisdiction over the youth until they are 18 years old.

The Colville Tribes’ TYP Grant Advisory Board faces challenges in integrating the Peacemaker Circle and the CTB into its juvenile code. Ideally, the code will give clear instructions to the Tribal Court as to its own jurisdiction, as well as how to interact smoothly with the Peacemakers and the CTB. Some challenges the Advisory Board faces include making sure that the Peacemakers are not overwhelmed by a greater caseload than they are staffed to handle, as well as finding qualified personnel to establish Truancy Boards in those school districts where they have not yet been set up. Much progress has been made, and the Advisory Board is optimistic that they will succeed in coordinating the many resources they have available.

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