Hopi Tribal Court is one of fifty-five jurisdictions to receive a grant to start a new drug court. This was part of a $30.9 million dollar allocation of funds from Congress to establish or improve drug courts for non-violent juvenile offenders with drug problems.
The grants went to 89 jurisdictions in 38 states and territories. The Hopi Court System received a $498,000 grant award last month to start a Drug Court for juveniles on the reservation. The Hopi drug court effort was started by former Chief Judge Gary Thomas. Pat Sekaquaptewa, a Hopi woman who does not work for the Tribe, but who knew of the available grant money and had a concern for the drug and alcohol problem at Hopi, assisted the court system to begin on the grant.
Attitudes toward drug offenses are changing. Alcohol is considered a drug, and looking at both drugs and alcohol, you don’t need a study to see that the nation is losing the war on drugs. The situation is even more extreme on the reservation, with most deaths being related to alcohol or drug abuse. Chief Judge Gary LaRance observes, “We’re losing the war on drugs, and people realize that we have to treat the child and educate them.” People are beginning to understand that drug offenders need treatment, and that treatment requires monitoring. Monitoring takes cooperation among agencies and professionals, and that is what Hopi Youth Wellness Court is all about. The goal is to treat for substance abuse. The offender is placed into treatment with periodic hearings on the progress he or she is making. “It is very non-adversarial and very big on multi-disciplinary approach”, Donna Humetewa, Program Director, explains.
The Drug Court Team is made up of many professionals who will be involved in the juvenile’s offense or recovery. The coordination of the Team honors everyone’s input. This multi-disciplinary and therapeutic approach is growing nationally. “There were 2,000 people attending the last National Drug Court Conference we went to, “ Judge LaRance comments.
Judge LaRance would like to see the program succeed and move on to help adults as well as juveniles. “The present system is not really addressing the drug problem. Because the problem of teen drug abuse is a complex issue, we need a group of professionals to monitor and impose sanctions. Everyone with a vested interest in the child’s future needs be involved with the youth and families to really solve it,” Judge LaRance says. He continues to explain that in the old system, the juvenile would be caught, brought to court, admit or not admit guilt. This is a system in which the court would be required to prove his or her guilt and move on to formal sentencing which is not therapeutic or based on recovery or finding solutions.
No longer can communities afford a punitive approach, as the drug problem gets larger. Neither can they afford for offices and agencies to be opposing each other in the struggle to guide juveniles away from drugs to a better path in life. Professionals are coming together and beginning to understand each other’s viewpoint. They have the same goal, which is the mission statement of the program, “...to develop a therapeutic judicial process integrating cultural values and collaborative partnerships that will effectively address substance abuse among youth. In other words, to work together to help youth find the alternatives to drug use, to help them kick the habit, and to have healthy lives in which they can pursue their own goals.