There are multiple and complex problems American Indian youth face when they are involved in tribal, county, state, and federal juvenile justice systems. The lack of access to culturally relevant and appropriate services is among the issues affecting American Indian youth under short and long-term confinement. The issues are many and complex, however some of the primary issues and barriers experienced among NM State juvenile facilities are listed below:
• Youth from rural and tribal communities are disconnected from families and local service providers when they are placed in juvenile facilities off tribal lands.
• Often youth in off-reservation facilities do not receive visits from family or tribal service providers because they live hundreds of miles from the off-reservation juvenile facilities.
• We know tribal, county, state and federal systems detain Indian youth for varying durations and for various types of offenses, but little is known about services provided to youth while they are confined and what continuing care and reentry plans are prepared to assist them, their families and communities upon release.
• Detained American Indian youth rarely receive or have limited access to culturally relevant services.
• Lack of culturally competent or informed staff that reflects the diverse population in state and federal systems hinder effective communication with offenders, their families and with tribal government representatives.
Recognizing the complex problems and the intense needs of these youth, American Indian Development Associates (AIDA) created the Cultural Services Program. The following sections describe the program purpose and program structure.
Tribal Cultural Services Program
The underlying purpose of this program is to fulfill New Mexico Children’s Code (§32A-1-4 NMSA et. seq.), which mandates that the state must provide access to culturally relevant treatment and services to American Indian clients. Acknowledging this mandate and the barriers listed above, AIDA strives to provide culturally appropriate services, as well as offer mentorship to the American Indian clients by the use of highly motivated and responsible American Indian mentors.
As defined by the national Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Office (OJJDP), “Mentoring is a structured and trusting relationship that brings young people together with caring individuals who offer guidance, support, and encouragement aimed at developing their competence and character.” Often these incarcerated youth do not have caring, mature adults to guide them through the challenges that they face. The Cultural Services program was created to help fulfill this gap in services and start working with clients during their incarceration.
Cultural Services Program Purposes:
1. Assist juvenile justice facilities and staff in understanding the culturally relevant mentoring services American Indian clients need during their incarceration.
2. Develop culture-based mentoring programs to deliver in juvenile justice tribal or state facilities.
3. Deliver culturally relevant mentoring services to American Indian youth during their incarceration.
4. Provide meaningful mentoring relationships aimed at strengthening cultural identity, responsibility, self-esteem, and self-confidence that can help youth redirect their lives and choose healthier lifestyles.
To guide, support and assist American Indian youth who:
•Lack contact with their families and tribal communities while incarcerated in a tribal or state juvenile detention and/or correctional facility for delinquent offenses.
• Lack culturally relevant services during their incarceration.
• Need and yearn for a positive adult role model in their lives who comes from a culturally similar background.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is an individual who is sincere about providing friendship, support and guidance to American Indian clients as they experience stressful situations while serving a commitment in a juvenile facility. A mentor is vested in maintaining the young adult’s connection to Indian culture, traditions, beliefs, practices and remedies, and that care regardless of the individual’s use of tribal-based cultural resources.
Who can be a mentor?
•American Indian adults age 21 or older.
•American Indian adults who are vested in being a positive role model to the clients, helping them successfully complete their terms of commitment.
• American Indian adults who will draw on cultural strengths and community core values.
•An American Indian adult willing to maintain a connection to tribal based practices regardless of the location of the Indian youth.
•An American Indian adult who can successfully undergo a background check.
• An American Indian adult who can commit to a schedule.