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Healing to Wellness

MAYETTA, Kan. – After four years of planning, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s effort to establish a drug court to address alcohol and drug-related crime in their community is moving closer to reality.

The plans took a step forward in September when U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren announced the tribe received a three-year $350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs to implement a Healing to Wellness Court on the tribe’s reservation near Mayetta.

“This plan emphasizes a comprehensive approach to the healing of mind, body and spirit,” Melgren said in a press release.

Healing to Wellness Court is a generic term used for tribal drug courts. The courts adapt the drug court concept to meet the specific needs of tribal communities and individuals. Royetta Rodewald, judicial administrator of the PBPN tribal court, said rather than simply punishing offenders only to see them re-offend, Healing to Wellness courts focus on rehabilitation and making lifestyle changes. “We’re not looking at punitive-type dispositions.”

The courts also include traditional and cultural values in the planning process. Like other tribes, the Prairie Band Potawatomi are incorporating their native language in the process as a means of taking ownership of the drug court concept. Offenders in the PBP Healing to Wellness Court will work through a series of four steps: Wapttigwe (white thunder), which is detoxification, Sewttigwe (yellow thunder) which focuses on stabilizing the offender’s life, Skepettigwe (green thunder) in which offenders put into practice the skills learned in treatment, and Kitettigwe (black thunder) which focuses on relapse prevention.

Rodewald said the spiritual component of the process will be individualized, taking into account the diversity of religious and spiritual beliefs of the community’s Native population. Good candidates for the alternative program would have to be ready to make lifestyle changes, she said. “You look at the individual and develop a plan for them.”

The courts face challenges and limitations. Many operate with limited funding and resources. Rodewald said the tribe currently contracts with Jackson County and nearby Brown County for the use of jail facilities to house offenders. Many defendants with alcohol and substance abuse problems also come into the court system as a result of a violent act, especially domestic violence, but the new court will be available only to non-violent offenders. In addition, many offenders face addictions to more than one drug.

Despite these challenges, Rodewald is hopeful that the focus on the individual’s healing will produce a ripple effect into families and the community. Details are still being worked out by an advisory team of tribal members, social service representatives and treatment providers, but Rodewald hopes to see the new court in operation in three to six months.

In 2007, 12 out of 15 child in need of care cases in the PBPN tribal court were alcohol or drug related, Rodewald said. “We’re hopeful we can show our tribal council this is something worthy to have.”