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First Participant Enters Wellness Court Program

Updated: Aug 20, 2019

By Joe Morey

News Editor

On Tuesday, July 9, 2019, WOJB aired a discussion held with representatives from the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Program. This discussion took place at Koobie’s Coffee with guests Susan Aasen (Coordinator of Healing to Wellness Program); Eric Mehnert, (Penobscot Tribal Nation, Healing to Wellness Court, Maine); Elaine Smith (LCO Tribal Judge); and Tweed Shuman (LCO Tribal Governing Board member and Sawyer County Board Chairman.)

In a press release issued by the program regarding the WOJB discussion, “This new initiative of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe addresses issues of substance abuse impacting tribal families. The program is designed to meet the individual needs of addiction to substance abuse of alcohol and/ or drugs in planning a wholistic treatment approach. A special focus of this court supervised program is Ojibwe culture as an incentive-based approach to live a healthy life.”

LCO TGB member Gary “Little Guy” Clause announced in late July that the program had enrolled its first client, a female participant who was currently in jail.

On the radio program, Tweed Shuman said, as chairman of the Sawyer County Board and a TGB member, the county and the TGB are in full support of the Healing to Wellness Court.

“This is so needed in our community,” Shuman said. “I’ve been on board for this since the beginning. County and tribal leaders are looking forward to the success of this program.”

Susan Aasen was hired through the grant as the court coordinator on April 1, 2019. The grant was received in October of 2018.

“William Trepanier and I worked feverishly to get the court started,” Aasen stated. “We brought Judge Mehnert and his team here to help us get it established. The judge comes here every two weeks.”

Aasen explained the case manager wasn’t planned to start in the grant until the third year, but she said due to the state of emergency the LCO tribe is in because of the many drug overdoses, a grant modification was done which allowed us to hire a case manager a year in a half earlier than planned.

Trepanier and Aasen explained at a recent meeting there are two important committees that will assist the LCO Tribal Court in making this program a success. A Multidisciplinary Steering Committee will meet quarterly and a Wellness Case Planning Team will meet every 2 weeks to work with individuals in the program. Cultural advisors will have a key role in both committees for the program.

Aasen said it is anticipated that by the end of year three, the Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Program will have provided at least 30 individuals and their families with wellness court services to deter substance abuse and improve general behavior and lifestyle choices.

Mehnert, who has served Penobscot since 2008, said he believes Healing to Wellness Courts are the future of criminal courts. He added states call them drug courts but they are more punitive than they should be.

“Wellness Courts have changed the community perception on addiction,” Mehnert told the LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB). “There is hope for recovery.”

LCO tribal programs, such as Indian Child Welfare, Child Support, Housing, Schools, Headstart, and Juvenile Truancy can refer individuals to the Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Program. Individuals can voluntarily request to be included in the Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Program.

On the radio program, Aasen told of how she visited a grandmother who asked if she could get her daughter into the program. The grandmother said her daughter lost her children but is now working hard on recovery. Aasen explained how in this case the mother can do self-referral or work through Indian Child Welfare to get into the program.

LCO Chief Judge Elaine Smith said this program is long overdue for LCO. The drug problem at LCO affects all of us, she said.

Smith said that currently the LCO Healing to Wellness Court has no working relationship with Sawyer County courts but they hope to work towards that.

Shuman said the county is looking to get a second judge, “But also looking to possibly build a second court room. The question is where are we going to get the money? Do we raise taxes? So, as an option we are looking very closely at the Healing to Wellness Court.”

Shuman said we could bring our tribal members into this court. “It would lower the Sawyer County docket and help improve our care.”

Shuman explained the Criminal Justice Coordinator for Sawyer County is examining ways to avoid sending people to other counties. He said they are looking at rehabilitation programs or electronic bracelet monitoring over incarceration to get it so they are not sent to other counties.

At a recent meeting with the TGB, Aasen and Judge Mehnert explained the process of the Healing to Wellness Court program.

Once an individual is a Tribal Healing to Wellness Court participant, a Case Manager will work closely with the individual who has substance abuse issues.

“Perhaps the participant needs inpatient treatment to address addiction. The Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Case Manager will work with medical and treatment providers such as the LCO Clinic and Coordinated Community Services (CCS) to establish funding for treatment,” Aasen explained. “A unique feature of the program is Ojibwe culture, which can include use of the sweat lodge, obtaining an Indian name, learning about Ojibwe culture, and speaking with cultural advisors for personal cultural growth.”

Judge Mehnert told the TGB a participant will check in with their case manager three times a week and they will also be drug tested three times a week.

The Case Manager and individual will develop a case plan which includes connecting with community resources in Tribal Programs, LCO College, Vocational Rehabilitation, Wisconsin Department of Corrections Probation Department, Tribal Court Attorneys, Tribal Court Lay Advocates, Tribal Community Members, Tribal Culture programs and many other programs that can be of assistance.

“The Wellness Case Planning Committee and the individual will meet in an Ojibwe cultural setting to discuss the individual’s efforts toward sobriety and abstinence from drugs,” Aasen said.

Every two weeks the planning committee will meet to see how the participant is doing and what they can do for the person, Judge Mehnert added. He said in the Healing to Wellness Court program the judge will ask the participant how he/she is doing and will actually spend some time with them.

“The addiction lifestyle is not the drug disorder itself and it’s not the criminal conduct itself. It is a deeper cause of trauma, historical and personal trauma, that is the root cause of a person’s addiction,” Mehnert said.

Mehnert told the TGB participants will only change their behavior with positive reinforcement. “If there’s a cultural community connection the greater chance of their recovery, but negative reinforcement drives up recidivism.”

Mehnert said statistics show that 76.9% of substance-related crimes in jail will end up back in jail but the number drops to 67% after participation in a Healing to Wellness Court.


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