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State/Tribal Wellness Court Receives National Honor

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Cass/Itasca County/Leech Lake Tribal Wellness Court has been named the recipient of the 2012 Outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award by the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) . The award will be presented to Cass County District Court Judge John P. Smith and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Tribal Court Associate Judge Korey Wahwassuck at the NCJA National Forum on Criminal Justice and Public Safety in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico in July. 

The Cass/Itasca County/Leech Lake Tribal Wellness Court is a multi-jurisdictional court which targets chronic alcohol and drug offenders. The Court combines treatment, sobriety testing, and monitoring to break the cycle of addiction for offenders.  Law enforcement, probation, treatment professionals, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and court officials provide a team approach to assist individuals in overcoming their addiction and becoming law-abiding citizens.

The Wellness Court, the first tribal-state joint jurisdictional court in the United States, has served as a national model for intergovernmental cooperation. It has been in operation since 2006, and serves tribal members and non-Indians residing in Cass County, Itasca County, and the Leech Lake Reservation. 

Each year, NCJA recognizes outstanding criminal justice programs that address important criminal justice issues; demonstrate effectiveness based upon stated goals; provide a good example of the use of federal funds to initiate a program that is subsequently supported through state and local appropriations, or is self-sustaining; and can be easily replicated in other jurisdictions. A panel of criminal justice experts from across the country selected five award winners for 2012; one each from the American Northeast, South, Midwest, and West, as well as one tribal program.

“This is an honor to receive this award on behalf of the Cass/Itasca County/Leech Lake Tribal Wellness Court,” said Judge Smith.

“The program participants have shown that this innovative method in the criminal justice system yields positive changes for themselves and our communities,” added Itasca County District Court Judge John Hawkinson. 

The Wellness Court has also been the recipient of the Harvard Honoring Nations Award (Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University) and the National Association of Drug Court Professionals Cultural Proficiency Courage Award. It was also nominated for a United Nations Public Service Award.