Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $767,588)
The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Court is applying for funding to expand the Native Bail Reform Initiative (NBRI), a state-tribal collaborative project that allows the SRMT Tribal Court to provide pre-trial services to tribal members in Bombay Town Court. New York State obtained concurrent criminal jurisdiction in 1948 from Congress and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe is not currently exercising criminal jurisdiction. Prior to 2017, approximately 44% of SRMT tribal members charged with misdemeanors in the Bombay, NY Town Court, had bail imposed and often remained incarcerated. Due to state law, tribal members faced a cash-only bail system. In response to this problem, the NBRI was developed and implemented in 2017 in collaboration with the New York Federal-State-Tribal Courts and Indian Nations Justice Forum (Forum) due to the need to develop a pre-trial services program for tribal members, as they faced a cash-bail only system due to state law. The New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA) supported the project and continues to support the NBRI. The Forum and OCA identified the Bombay Town Court as a suitable location for a pilot project, because Bombay Town Court’s had the highest number of arraignments of Native Americans. The NBRI Advisory Committee, chaired by Justice Main, Franklin County Court, and Chief Judge Garrow, SRMT Tribal Court, guides the project and includes state and tribal court judges, Forum representatives, OCA officials, and representatives of Center of Court Innovation, which has provided technical assistance. Currently, the program is limited to one Town Court and tribal members charged in other Town and Village Courts are not able to benefit from the NBRI. Also, after 4 years of operation NBRI needs a culturally appropriate risk assessment tool and to conduct an evaluation to improve, progress, and share its collaborative success with other jurisdictions.
To address these gaps, the NBRI is going to expand to five other town and village courts that handle misdemeanor arraignments and include non-violent felonies from Franklin County Court.
Tribal members are arraigned in other courts in Franklin County, including Malone Town Court, where 10% of arraignments are Native, and in the Fort Covington Town Court, where arraignments are 3% Native. Tribal members are also often arraigned in St. Lawrence County, which borders the SRMIR, as tribal members shop, eat, and work within this county. The Town and Village Courts in St. Lawrence County with high rates of Native American arraignments are Massena Village Court (34%), Massena Town Court (38%), and Potsdam Town Court (6%).
The NBRI has been impactful on the Tribe and its members by assisting tribal members with court appearances, conducting a needs assessment and making referrals to assist with addiction, mental health, and violence issues, and increasing public safety by ensuring offenders are monitored and any violations are immediately reported to Court. The NBRI collaboration also allows the Tribe to exercise its sovereignty over tribal members despite the fact that it is not currently exercising criminal jurisdiction.