Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee Meets to Discuss Tribal/County Agreement
By Joe Morey
The Sawyer County/Lac Courte Oreilles Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee held their September meeting to discuss the current agreement between the county, Tribe and JusticePoint, who they announced last month they were hiring to handle the county’s criminal justice programs.
JusticePoint is a non-profit dedicated to the promotion of evidence-informed criminal justice programs, practices, and policies. The CEO and Co-founder is Nick Sayner. The company was contracted to replace Diane McNamer who recently retired as the Criminal Justice Coordinator.
Members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee include Sawyer County Judge John Yackel, Sheriff Doug Mrotek, District Attorney Bruce Poquette, County Administrator Tom Hoff, TGB members Tweed Shuman and Lorraine Gouge as well as county board members James Schlender Jr and Mark Helwig. Kathy McCoy, citizen member, was also at the meeting.
“It’s up to this committee to take the bull by the horns and tackle the issues of jail population, recidivism and addiction in our county,” said Hoff. He explained the funding from the county and the Tribe for this agreement will go towards funding two employees who will help get grant funding to move into diversion programs and a second court.
Committee Chairman James Schlender Jr, former LCO Tribal Judge, noted the committee only provides guidance and has no actual authority for negotiating.
In the agreement, Schlender questioned why JusticePoint would provide pretrial supervision to only 50 defendants when there are so many more cases currently pending in the county court system.
Sayner explained they only put that number into the agreement based on quality supervision to the courts. “The expectation is that JusticePoint provides quality service to the county.”
Schlender said this may have a detrimental impact. “This would be less than what we were doing under Diane McNamer,” he stated.
Sayner said the current Memorandum of Understanding between the tribe and the county will be expiring January 1st. The committee is asking that the Tribe increase their annual payment. Under the current MOU that covered the past three years, the tribe paid $25,000 of the $75,000 budget.
The current MOU with tribe appoints two tribal governing board members to the committee.
Hoff said the scope of the original application of the MOU has grown beyond the normal description. He said the budget is now about $200,000.
“We need money to help pay for this,” Hoff said.
The committee hopes the tribe will consider increasing their annual payment. Members of the committee want tribal authorities more involved so it doesn’t all fall on the county. They plan to set up a meeting with TGB. The more the tribe can contribute the more they will be involved, members explained.
McCoy added, “Our partnership with LCO has been wonderful but I’d like to see them 50/50 partners. If they have a vested interest, they would have equal footing and may take a more active role.”
Shuman said the tribe wants to contribute as we realize the disproportionate number of tribal members in the county jail. He noted the Tribe wants to know where the money would be used to help reduce incarceration of tribal members.
“We were very pleased with the random drug testing that was being done at LCO Behavioral Health. We want to continue that testing,” Shuman stated. “We’ll also have a new courtroom and we’ll have a zoom meeting room as well. We are working on hiring a public defender and a scheduling officer.”
Shuman noted they do have diversion programs like the Healing and Wellness Court. “The jail assessment was a real eye opener and we recognize we have tribal members in the jail. We’d like to see lesser offenses in our tribal court.”
Sayner said it’s important that whoever fills these rolls works with the tribe.
Schlender added, “The tribal component is the most complex but also the most crucial. It’s important to make sure drug testing is accessible.”
Judge Yackel added drug testing should be to comply with their bond but to also get them into treatment.
“Where in pretrial supervision does it talk about outpatient treatment? With meth and heroin we’re not talking about diversion but treatment and when they are doing good and getting themselves clean, then we talk about diversion programs,” Yackel stated.
Bill Trepanier, Tribal Court Commissioner, said LCO Tribal Court is working hard to offer more services to tribal people.
“We have a pretty good team and with the increase in capacity and availability, our court is going to be more prone to be able to handle more issues,” Trepanier said.
Schlender said if JusticePoint can help reduce the jail population that would benefit everyone.
Hoff concluded the meeting referring back to an opening comment by Judge Schlender, “This committee may not have authority but it does have all the players who can make recommendations.”