By Jacob Metoxen, Training and Technical Assistance Specialist, Tribal Youth Resource Center
Like most jurisdictions, tribal justice systems have been forced to adapt to a changing landscape resulting from COVID-19. Limiting system operations have particularly hindered American Indian/Alaska Native communities that are many times already hampered by inadequate resources. Despite initial difficulties, some valuable advantages can be exercised as tribal justice systems begin to resume operations.
One potential benefit to justice systems during the COVID-19 Pandemic is the transition to an increased usage of online communication platforms. Telecommunications can be advantageous because it allows team members to become more creative in addressing workload management while still accomplishing collective goals. Communities with intimate justice systems (like a lot of tribes) are also advantaged in this regard because employees are more likely to have a strong familiarity with one another. Examples of telecommunication practices which can lead to increased cohesiveness within tribal justice systems include:
- Organizing and sharing data between departments;
- Utilizing online applications to create more effective operations;
- Persistent online communication that allows for the logging of updates and ideas.
Organizing data allows for departments to better represent their clients, the community, and themselves. From a prosecutorial standpoint, the organization of data during a pandemic has allowed for the tracking of behavioral changes that can be attributed to COVID-19 preventative measures. This data is critical in helping departments understand where resources need to be utilized to offset staff unavailability. For example, an increase in domestic violence offenses possibly resulting from curfew will require more effective communication with victim services to ensure domestic violence victims are not overlooked during reduced operations.
Data reflecting behavioral patterns can also make human service decisions more resourceful. At times, criminal and civil cases in tribal justice systems may have a direct effect on each other’s outcomes. Data showing juvenile criminal offenses and child welfare criminal offenses can be combined with social services data to reveal whether adjustments to service plans need to be made. Increasing efficiency utilizing data could actually reduce caseloads during times when departments are limited; creating more time to devote to the individuals most impacted by COVID-19.
Social distancing measures within justice systems means less time for in-person communication between departments. Information that may have been easily gathered via physical check-ins now requires persistent digital interaction. The moving parts of justice systems combined with a strong online presence creates an opportunity to ensure interested parties are on the same page. This may include periodic updates between departments, shared calendars, and online working documents. The benefit of putting ideas on paper for the sake of sharing online means tasks and goals can be more readily available. Instead of meetings where individuals are taking separate notes, online documents can provide a collective approach to problem-solving. Shared calendars can also make sure service workers, victim advocates, officers, and attorneys are in tune with one another.
Persistent outreach is necessary to ensure team members are in sync during times when limited operations can affect department goals. Constructive communication is critical in unifying justice systems as opposed to creating divisive environments when individuals are dealing with COVID-19 on several levels. Understanding and accepting restrictions can go a long way in creating positive habits that equate to departmental preparedness.