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Kwanlin Dün partners in program to help people with FASD in justice system

Yukon's Kwanlin Dün First Nation is partnering in a new program aimed at helping Indigenous people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) navigate the justice system.

'Navigator-Advocates' help Indigenous offenders with FASD understand the legal process

'Our ultimate goal is to see people spend more time in our community and less time in custody,' said University of Regina associate professor Michelle Stewart, who is leading the program. (Rob Kruk / CBC)

Yukon's Kwanlin Dün First Nation is partnering in a new program aimed at helping Indigenous people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) navigate the justice system.

MP Ralph Goodale announced the $978,272-investment on Friday in Saskatchewan. The University of Regina will work with Kwanlin Dün and the FASD Network of Saskatchewan to implement the "Navigator-Advocates" program. 

Frontline workers will assist both youth and adults before their first court appearance and during their time in custody, helping them understand the legal process. 

"Our ultimate goal is to see people spend more time in our community and less time in custody," said University of Regina associate professor Michelle Stewart, who is leading the program.

"And to do so, we're going to be working very closely with individuals that have justice contact to help them better understand the judicial process, and look for better justice outcomes from there."

Stewart says she chose to work with Kwanlin Dün on this project because of her familiarity with the territory.

"The thing that's really important about this whole project is that it's really built on long-term relationships. I've been working with FASSY [Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Society Yukon] for a number of years, FASSY has worked with Kwanlin Dün — all of those partners have a relationship to the Wellness Court in the Yukon."

The Yukon Community Wellness Court was an initiative that began in 2007 as a therapeutic court model designed to work with offenders to address underlying causes for their actions — such as addictions, mental health problems or FASD.

Showing up for appointments

Stewart says the new program will see "navigators" help individuals who have been charged or convicted to be better informed about their case, and the process. That can mean remembering court dates, or observing conditions for release.

The Whitehorse Correctional Centre. Frontline workers will assist both youth and adults before their first court appearance and during their time in custody, helping them understand the legal process. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

"If you don't show up for appointments, if you don't show up to meet with your lawyer, if you don't show up to meet with your probation officer — those can be fairly important in the outcomes that you might see in court," she said. 

"For some that are sentenced to serve time in provincial and federal jails, those workers will follow them into those correctional facilities as well, and make sure that they're working with them while they're in custody as well."

Stewart says she'll work with Kwanlin Dün and other partners to evaluate the program after a few years, and determine whether it has made an impact.

"If we're seeing people become more connected to community resources, and less connected to the justice system, that is a success," she said.

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