American Indian Tribes to Create Juvenile Diversion Programs


The Lower Brule Tribal and Agency Building

This post originally appeared in the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE), which provides daily coverage of juvenile justice and related issues around the nation.

Four American Indian tribes in South Dakota, Colorado and Minnesota will be setting up programs to aid youth who otherwise might be incarcerated.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) said on May 30 that they are collaborating with the tribes to create early diversion programs for young people who have behavioral health needs.

The Cheyenne River Sioux, Lower Brule Sioux, Red Lake Band of Chippewa, and Ute Mountain Ute will get technical assistance in setting up community-based programs.

The two-year project was announced in February, and tribes applied in April, said Aaron Hill, project assistant at the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice. The center, along with the Boston-based Technical Assistance Collaborative, is coordinating the project.

“[The tribes] have identified a need to divert youth who've come in contact with the juvenile justice system back to community-based services,” Hill said.

Their programs will make use of tribal resources and draw on their own cultural traditions, he said.

A $1.3 million collaboration between the MacArthur Foundation and SAMHSA will support this initiative, said Karli Keator, division manager of juvenile justice at Policy Research Associates, which houses the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice. The grant will also fund additional diversion programs in four states, she said.

Research has shown that 60 percent to 70 percent of youth who become involved in the juvenile justice system have mental health issues, according to SAMHSA, and more than 60 percent have substance abuse disorders. Rather than getting help for these disorders, youth are ending up in the juvenile justice system.

American Indian youth in particular have less access to behavioral health services, according to SAMHSA.

“This effort will provide sorely needed resources and support for a youth population that is disproportionately affected by the juvenile justice system,” Laurie Garduque, director of Justice Reform for the MacArthur Foundation, said in a press release.

Teams from each tribe will meet early in June with SAMHSA, the MacArthur Foundation, the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice and the Technical Assistance Collaborative.

SAMHSA's Policy Academy initiative and the MacArthur Foundation's Models for Change Action Networks have focused on reducing the overrepresentation of youth of color with mental and/or substance use disorders in the juvenile justice system.

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