Adult Treatment Court and Mentor Court with Judge Knisely
During this interview from RISE23, hear from Judge Mary Jane Knisely with the 13th Judicial District Court in Billings, Montana.
During the interview, Judge Knisely discusses the treatment courts she presides over--a veterans treatment court for military personnel and their families as well as a felony DUI court. Judge Knisely also highlights how her courts have served as mentor courts, which provides a means for others to come and train with their teams and observe a docket.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Well, I'm honored to be here today with Judge Knisely. Judge Knisely, could you please introduce yourself?
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: Of course. My name's Mary Jane Knisely and I sit on the bench in Billings, Montana.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: And I know that there in Montana, you are very active in a mentor court. Could you tell our listeners what is a mentor court and what have you learned from sitting on a mentor court?
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: Of course. So, I have the privilege of presiding over two treatment courts currently, a veterans' treatment court, called CAMO; it stands for Courts Assisting Military Offenders.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Oh, okay.
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: And—so we serve all justice-involved vets, all branches, all discharge statuses. Pretty inclusive court. Very excited about that. Also, we serve family members of veterans if there is a connection with their offense to the service member.
We—I also preside over a felony DUI court for DUIs in Montana, the Wild Wild West, is an academy court. And we have visitors come in for that also. It's called STEER.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: So what does a mentor court do?
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: So, for us, what mentor courts have done is we have done it both in-person and virtually had folks come to Montana and train with our teams. They observe a docket. They observe a staffing. They have one-to-one peer interaction with our team members. We share any documents. We might have policies, procedure manuals. We tour them around. We take them out to see equine therapy. We take them—we have a store where our participants receive—can shop. And then we have hygiene products. We have work booths. We have a resume-building center, all of those kind of things down at our store. So they can visit that and kind of see some of those resources as well. And then we just try to kind of help them lift their court and get going.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Awesome. Well, as a treatment court judge from Baltimore, we do not have equine therapy. So that seems to be very original and innovative. Could you tell us what equine therapy is?
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: Of course. So we obviously have horses in Montana. And so it's worked out really well for us. Our veterans go out to an arena and, for example, if you are not, of course, a cantankerous veteran, as you're coming in to the court with any issues that you're working on, we might pair you up to a cantankerous horse.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Oh.
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: Or if you don't trust me, which oftentimes our participants don't trust team members, we might either have you in the—with the therapist. They blindfold—you might be the one giving me the instructions through the obstacle course. Another veteran, who is used to building camaraderie and working on partnerships, is on the horse and they do the obstacle course. You know, if you're afraid of horses, they start with grooming and care and self-care. We bring your family on the weekend. We have mini ponies, mini horses, and up to really large, older horses.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Wow. Wow.
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: It's really fun.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: It's kind of like what we do in the city with the dogs.
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: Probably. Yes. Yes.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Yes. Yes. We have dog program. That's wonderful. So, in general, how do you feel that treatment courts are helping communities deal with substance use?
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: So, in my community and the state of Montana, in general, we have a lot of substance use and, really, we're lacking in a lot of treatment areas. We have eight recognized Native American reservations.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Oh, wow.
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: They very much struggle with substance use. They struggle with historical trauma in my city, which is the largest city, in Billings. I've had a drug court, a mental health court, a veterans court, now a felony DUI court.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Wow.
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: We have really this great court that is the Indian Child Welfare Act Court. It's a combination of treatment, of criminal courts and family courts. So that has helped our community a lot. And we have some pretrial diversion courts, which I think really give folks who are just dipping their toe in the criminal justice system a chance to get services they otherwise would not have gotten. I think treatment courts, people come to the courthouse to sort out chaos. What could be more chaotic? And we have a really structured team who helps them sort their chaos out and shepherds them through that process. So I think it's . . .
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Right.
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: And then they go on into the community to be productive.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Right. Right. Exactly.
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: To never come back to the courthouse unless it's jury duty.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: There you go. Okay. What would you tell a team that is thinking about setting up their first treatment court?
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: So I feel like we really have to meet our participants where they are and I would tell the team to take a look at where they are, because each court looks very different. And as you're setting it up, you can't expect to have everything right from the get-go. I would never say start small because I actually liked getting a cohort and a theater together for people so that they could kind of build off each other in the court. But I would say, look at what you really can realistically do and start this and serve these people and get going and ask others. You don't have to, you know, design this all yourself. There are resources. But look at your team, where they are, look at your community at what they are, and try to match them up to your participants just like we do a treatment plan.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: The Adult Drug Court Best Practice Standard number 6 discusses the importance of complimentary services and recovery capital. How have you been able to incorporate that into your courtroom and into your treatment court?
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: So, I guess, when I think of recovery capital, I think of anything you invest in yourself is recovery capital, and to explain that to participants at whatever phase they are in the program is really important. Recovery capital, to me, at the very beginning, will look very different than it will at commencement. So we want to talk about that and offer them some suggestions and yet not overwhelm them. I think internal motivation also changes as you go through the program and you want a little bit more for yourself, the healthier you become.
So, for us, depending on, if you have children, if you have trauma, if you have safe and sober housing or a home. Or you have a felony DUI and would like to get a driver's license and become reinsured someday, we would help you do that. Like, I mentioned the store earlier, we want to give you all the help we can with long-term employment.
We have a really cool program where our law enforcement run a budget class. I would have never thought that that was going to be something, but they're very used to structure and numbers, you know, whether it's 10-4, they've got it or they—but they tell them and they—so they run this class. And our clients come sometimes with a lot of debt and they get out with the ability to buy a home sometimes.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Wow.
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: And it's really touching when they had come from no place to lay their head, that was consistent, besides couch surfing. So, to me, that's kind of what recovery capital looks like. Again, you know, some people still have their job. Some of our folks are not healthcare-eligible at the VA because they're over income. I would have never thought that. But now what I know is mental health and substance use really can be anywhere, and income certainly does not define that either. And so they weren't eligible for services, so building a practicum around them when they were over income was really a challenge.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Right. What part does culture play in recovery capital?
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: So I think when you come together in the courtroom and you start to learn who your participants are—we do gender-specific dockets, which has been wonderful. The things that folks are willing to share when they aren't maybe having to be more guarded or to show off is really very interesting. It's demoralizing to ask for something to build your own recovery capital and to build yourself up in an environment that you're not comfortable.
We have, as I mentioned, lots of Native American females, for example, in my program or Native American veterans who have served. They have very specific cultures and needs. And so—I don't know. Drum therapy is really great. Who would have thought that that was something that we should offer? We've just learned so much. Again, changing behavior, incentivizing behavior. You have to know who your people are and they have to be comfortable that . . .
KAREN FRIEDMAN: What speaks to them. You have to know what speaks to them.
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: Yeah. Yes. And . . .
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Yeah. I mean, I was just interviewing a judge from Detroit who talked about recovery capital in terms of music and Motown, right, because in their community that's what speaks to their participants. You're talking about drum therapy in a tribal setting and—because that's what speaks to them. So it's really so interesting to see the differences around the country as far as what speaks to people and what impacts them in a deep way.
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: Yes. And there are things that don't mean anything that we thought meant so much.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Right.
JUDGE MARY JANE KNISELY: And so we've learned so much and we've been able to teach other courts that, I might want to give you some incentive that you have no interest in having and—or don't need or it just doesn't mean anything to you, yet something else might mean so much. But you only know that when you listen to who you have there and you watch how they interact with one another, and providing a mentor, providing a peer support specialist. Those are huge recovery capital things that people would never ask for in a mixed group.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.