After its chief judge was featured on a recent PBS documentary, the Yurok Tribe has launched a fundraising campaign for a program that helps its members navigate through the tribal and state judicial systems.
The tribe and Root & Rebound, an Oakland-based nonprofit that helps people re-enter the community from prison or jail, are raising money via Crowdrise for the Yurok Court’s Legal Access Center. The Legal Access Center helps those seeking assistance in filling out paperwork for civil court proceedings, primarily related to family law, said Chief Judge Abby Abinanti.
It also holds workshops to assist tribal members seeking to expunge their records, Abinanti said.
“It really helps getting people back into mainstream employment,” she said, adding the program works with members who qualify financially. “People can in their youth do things that they truly regret decades later. But those can prevent them from interacting in a positive fashion with the workforce or getting educational benefits or housing benefits and providing for their families.”
Abinanti, a Yurok Tribal member and a longtime San Francisco Superior Court Commissioner, was featured in Anne Makepeace’s POV documentary “Tribal Justice,” which aired Aug. 21 on PBS. The documentary focused on the work she did to create a justice system steeped in Yurok traditions and restorative justice.
The film also follows two Yurok parents who struggled with substance abuse and overcame adversity for the sake of their young child, according to a Yurok Tribe press release.
“I think it’s a very good teaching tool,” Abinanti said about the documentary. “The thing I really liked about it, what attracted me to it, is part of their public education section. They develop a curriculum so that if schools want to use this movie they now have a curriculum they can use with it.”
Over the years, the Yurok Tribe’s Legal Access Center has helped more than 100 individuals get prepared for court, Abinanti said. Many who visit the Legal Access Center can’t afford to hire a lawyer and could otherwise have found themselves in a court situation without representation, she said.
“It’s really difficult to manage and difficult on the individuals because as a judge you can’t get off the bench and help one side versus the other side,” she said. “You’re in there and if you have one side represented or if you have neither side represented and the paper work’s done in such a poor fashion, this is not going to be pretty.”
Abinanti pointed out that the Yurok Tribal justice system’s wellness and batterer intervention programs as well as their efforts to help tribal members clean up their criminal records and re-join the workforce helps relieve the burden on the state court system.
“I came out of the state court system,” she said. “They truly are themselves buckling under the weight of it all and my division was the family law division so I know how difficult that is. We’re trying to raise money so we can assist (people) and help manage their lives a little bit better.”
The Crowdrise campaign began after the POV documentary aired and has generated $1,160 so far. The fundraising goal is $10,000, according to the website.
According to the tribe’s press release, a $50 donation will cover the cost of obtaining a tribal member’s criminal record; $150 will pay for the administrative costs of one dismissed conviction; $500 will help five tribal members clear their record; and $1,500 will pay for one Fair Chance hiring training to educate and encourage local employers about the benefits and legal issues around hiring someone with a criminal record.
The workshops held through the Legal Access Center have been wildly successful in getting members with a criminal past into the workforce or in school, Abinanti said. Local judges have also been supportive of the program, she said.
“They’re happy because they see it as a real move from us to try to push people back into the workforce and make them legitimate and make them responsible,” she said. “That benefits everybody.”
To help donate, visit www.crowdrise.com/o/en/team/tribal-justice-film-and-fundraiser. For more information about Tribal Justice, visit www.pbs.org/pov/tribaljustice/.