The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is launching new efforts to prevent felons from returning to prison and teenagers from ever entering the system.
Nationally, two-thirds of all people released from prison are arrested within three years of release, according to Colorado’s U.S. Attorney’s Office.
To help tackle this problem on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation, tribal officials are looking to introduce more support for those returning to their community from prison, said Peter Ortego, general council for the Ute Mountain Utes.
Tribal leaders, including Chairman Manuel Heart, met with several government officials from different agencies last week to help examine the needs and existing services that could be incorporated.
During the preliminary meeting, the group discussed how to provide more substance-abuse treatment, employment and housing for those coming home from prison.
The tribe is going to reach out to the Bureau of Justice Assistance to get started with the program, and officials plan to meet again in January.
“Exactly what the re-entry program will look like is something we need work with the tribe on,” Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh said.
This was a good time to start because the Bureau of Indian Affairs also is doing a pilot program to help Ute Mountain Utes who have committed tribal offenses reintegrate into the community, Walsh said. Bringing together the local federal judge, the leading federal public defender, the U.S. probation chief and officials from the BIA and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons created energy for change, Walsh said.
“It was very clear to everyone in the room this was a great moment to undertake a comprehensive re-entry strategy,” he said.
Ute Mountain Ute officials also are in the process of launching a juvenile diversion program and providing greater levels of mental-health and substance-abuse counseling for detained juveniles. The diversion program will focus on instilling native culture and traditions within the teens.
On reservations, the detention facilities are run by the federal government. The same is true for the facility in Towaoc, where both adults and juveniles are held.
As a result across reservations nationwide, juveniles quickly get absorbed into the federal system, Ortego said.
However, the tribe has established several of youth activities to give teens positive outlets, he said.
Since about 2006, the tribe has been working to address crime in general by providing more law-enforcement officers and working together with local, state and national law enforcement, he said. The response times for law enforcement are also much faster, he said.
“The community has done a lot for itself,” Ortego said.
To improve collaboration, the tribe also is working on an agreement with the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office to provide liability protection for both Ute Mountain Ute law enforcement and sheriff’s deputies. Right now, officers of either agency could held personally liable for an accidents within the other’s jurisdiction, he said.