Former Tribal Judge Schlender Presents 4 Ideas to Help Reduce Jail Population
By Joe Morey
Former LCO Tribal Judge and current Sawyer County Board Member Jim Schlender, Jr, came before the Tribal Governing Board (TGB) in early February to discuss four ideas that may help reduce the population of tribal members in the Sawyer County Jail, which, according to Sheriff Doug Mrotek, stands at 65%.
“The warrant list is more non-Native, the jail population is far more Natives which means Natives get picked up quicker, stay in jail longer, which means Natives have less access to lawyers to get out,” Schlender said.
The first idea, he explained, the Tribe should use its unique status to bring back a probation agent on the reservation.
“We need to work with the Department of Corrections on protocols for probation holds. 25% of the current jail population is probation holds, which means these people aren’t being heard,” Schlender said. “It would be better if we had a probation agent on the Rez. There’s only one agent for the region so they are backed up and can’t deal with probation holds quick enough.”
Secondly, the case load is too much for the judge in Sawyer County, according to Schlender.
“We need a discretionary transfer code. Tribal member issues that are misdemeanors or less serious crimes should be heard in our court,” Schlender said. “We need to figure out how to transfer cases from Sawyer to LCO Tribal Court.”
Yackel needs a code and he is in favor of doing this, Schlender added. “Our court is strong enough to do this and it’s a reflection of our sovereignty.”
Schlender said another thing to consider is that court costs in Sawyer are as high as 500 to 600 dollars per case and in tribal court, we don’t have these costs.
The third idea is to make the Oakwood Haven building a transitional house. Schlender said the Tribe could use the Wellness Court to set it up as an alternative to incarceration.
And lastly, the Tribe needs its own public defenders.
“There’s a program the Tribe could look into that has attorneys to serve in tribal court. If the Tribe could set this up where students could get some training, it would help us get public defenders to help get our people out on bonds and be heard quicker,” said Schlender.