Tester, Franken introduce criminal justice reform bill for Indian Country

New legislation will establish and fund treatment courts in Native American communities

(U.S. Senate) – Senators Jon Tester and Al Franken are pushing for criminal justice reform in Indian Country by introducing new legislation to further establish and fund treatment courts in Indian Country.

Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts adjudicate cases involving alcohol or drug crimes through an extensive supervision and treatment program. These courts focus specifically on holding offenders accountable while also rehabilitating them and getting them the treatment, counseling and community support.

“Our criminal justice system is broken. Jails are crowded and offenders aren’t getting the help they need to get back on their feet,” said Tester, Vice Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. “This bill will establish more treatment courts so we can decrease the number of repeat offenders and save taxpayers money. Treatment courts have worked successfully across the nation and it is time to expand this success throughout Indian Country.”

“Indian Country has been deprived of the resources they need to adequately address the drug and alcohol abuse problem in their communities,” said Franken, a member of the Indian Affairs Committee. “Our legislation would support tribes as they establish treatment courts and help move Native Americans struggling with addiction from the criminal justice system to the road to recovery.”

There are currently approximately 70 Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts operating throughout Indian Country, but there is no steady funding source to keep these treatment courts operating with predictability.

Tester and Franken’s bill – the Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts Act – authorizes $10 million annually for the Department of Justice to administer grants to establish and maintain Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts.

Important Statistics:

• According to a 2009 Indian Health Service report, 20 percent of Native American adults needed treatment for drug or alcohol abuse and rates of drug-related deaths skyrocketed in Indian Country by 206 percent since 1979 and alcohol and drugs are involved in 35 percent of violent crimes in Indian Country.

• The Office of National Drug Control Policy states that out of every $1.00 invested in treatment courts that serve all at-risk arrestees, there is an average return of $3.36 to the community. Additionally, treatment courts have reduced re-arrest rates by 84 percent one year after being released.

Tester and Franken’s bill is available online HERE.