$900,000 grant will aid tribal courts

A federal grant of $900,000 will help implement the Civil Diversion Agreement the state has reached with more Alaska tribes, Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said Oct. 10.

The agreement requires state law enforcement to offer defendants of certain low-level offenses and crimes a referral to the tribal courts.  The state has worked collaboratively for several years in a working group with various tribes and tribal organizations to negotiate a model agreement that allows for this procedure. It has been part of the state’s Public Safety Action Plan since issuance of the plan last October.

“Tribes and tribal courts have told us they would love to take these matters on and take a direct role in providing public safety in their communities, but there’s one thing that always stands in the way – money,” Lindemuth said. “Alaska tribes often get overlooked for federal funding because of a lack of a land base. We went to the federal government and said we have tribes that are ready and willing to address public safety in their communities, we just need the resources to get tribal civil diversion programs up and running.”

The agreement would allow for offenders who would otherwise be charged with certain fourth degree assaults, reckless endangerment, Class B misdemeanors, crimes involving substance abuse, and certain alcohol and drug-related offenses to be given the option to go before the tribal court for a culturally-based remedy, instead of state court.

The offender would have to consent in writing and agree to a tribally imposed remedy or face the possibility of criminal prosecution in state court.

Tribal courts can also decline to take the matter and send it back to state court. The agreement retains additional safeguards and sideboards before any domestic violence offense would be diverted from state court.

“Currently what we are doing in rural Alaska is not working,” Lindemuth said. “It is my belief that allowing culturally-based remedies in someone’s home community will have a positive impact on public safety. You are more likely to take responsibility for your actions when you have to face your neighbors, friends and family members and be held accountable for what you have done.”