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Lessons Learned in Implementing the First Four Tribal Wellness Courts.

Gottlieb, Karen
June 4, 2015

Source: (2005) Washington, DC: US. Department of Justice. National Institute of Justice.

The “lessons learned” presented in this paper were drawn from the experiences of the first four tribal wellness courts (drug courts): Hualapai (Arizona), the Blackfeet (Montana), Fort Peck reservation (Montana), Poarch Creek (Alabama). Although these tribal drug courts had distinctive experiences in planning and implementing court procedures and programs, they exhibited a similar pattern of strengths and weaknesses. The intent of identifying lessons learned from these court programs is that other tribes learn from their experiences and avoid the same mistakes. The first of 10 lessons discussed is to develop a strong structure for the court team. The responsibility of the team is to integrate the members’ skills and backgrounds in achieving a holistic approach to treating court participants who have substance abuse problems. The team should be composed of representatives from across the reservation, including tribal elders and others who embody traditional tribal values. The second lesson is to use the informed consent model for admittance to the court program, which involves the selection of referral points and the use of legal procedures that protect the individual’s due-process rights. The third lesson is to assess readiness for change in potential participants through legal and clinical screening for eligibility. A fourth lesson is to integrate culture, not religion, into the court, which involves providing access to holistic, structured, and phased substance abuse treatment services that incorporate culture and tradition. Other lessons discussed involve monitoring participants during times when illegal acts are likely to occur; rewarding positive behaviors; choosing a judge who can be both a leader and a team player; collecting automated court information systematically from the beginning of the court; developing a written curriculum for court staff; and emphasizing early outreach within the community. (Abstract courtesy of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service,


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