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45 Colo. Law. 51 (2016)
Building a Culturally Competent Problem-Solving Court

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Building a Culturally Competent

Problem-Solving Court

by Jami  Vigil

Problem-solving courts are,   first and foremost, courts, charged
      with safeguarding and advancing the constitutional rights of
      all citizens to due process and equal protection under the
law. Building a problem-solving court team that is culturally com-
petent and appropriately responsive to all participants is an arduous
task, but it is necessary to ensure equal access to the courts. For this
reason, problem-solving courts have an affirmative obligation to
take reasonable actions to prevent or correct disparities that may
exist in the implementation of their programs.2 This article dis-
cusses cultural competence, which is one of the greatest challenges
faced by problem-solving courts. In doing so, it reviews the steps
one family drug court program has taken to meet this challenge.

Ensuring   Equal  Access and Cultural Competence
  Problem-solving  courts target many of the most complex, often
multigenerational, and overlapping issues communities face. They
target such issues as substance abuse, mental health needs, domestic
violence, child abuse and neglect, homelessness, unemployment, and
truancy. While no two problem-solving court programs are identi-
cal, all rest on a foundation of therapeutic jurisprudence, which is
the premise that law is a social force that can have either a thera-
peutic or an anti-therapeutic impact within the lives of individuals,
families, and communities.3 Through its use of individualized treat-
ment, community-based   incentives, creative or therapeutic sanc-
tions, trauma-informed practices, and the judicial officer as an edu-
cator, the highly trained and multidisciplinary treatment team works
together to further recovery and rehabilitation for program partici-
pants. One significant hurdle for problem-solving courts, however,
is ensuring cultural competence.
  Picture this: The courtroom is full of people for a large weekly
family drug court docket. There are several dozen drug court par-
ticipants and their family members, as well as caseworkers and

counselors, a drug court coordinator, judicial assistants, numerous
attorneys, and a judicial officer. The docket continues for several
hours, with participants and their families watching and learning
from their peers' interactions with the judicial officer. This weekly
drug court appearance is much more than a routine hearing. It is a
hands-on  experiential learning opportunity, and participation is
essential. Accountability, responsibility, and the development of
good decision-making skills are actively rewarded for all to see. Par-
ticipants learn from the experience and mistakes of their peers.
  A  participant's culture, however, can drastically interfere with
one's access to this learning opportunity. For example, if a partici-
pant does not speak English, she will not get the full benefit of drug
court. In particular, if a participant lacks the language skills to
understand  the exchanges between the judicial officer and other
participants, she will not benefit from others'experiences. Language
is an easy example of how a participant's culture can impact access
to the benefits of a problem-solving court's experiential learning
opportunities. However, it is just one aspect of culture.
   Culture is the conceptual system held by a community or society
that structures the way people view the world.4 It includes beliefs,
norms, and values and influences ideas about relationships, what
constitutes a family, parenting styles, and how individuals should
live their lives.5 Being culturally competent is more than merely
embracing  diversity. A culturally competent court team recognizes
cultural differences and works successfully with those participants
whose values, traditions, basic assumptions, and perspectives differ
from those of team members.' Through  congruent attitudes, poli-
cies, and procedures, the team may gain the ability to better re-
spond to participants so that they have equal access to appropriate
services fitting within their cultural framework or perspective.7
This in turn promotes treatment success for participants. For this
reason, the court team should endeavor to be culturally responsive.
This means  learning what to say, how to say it, and when to say it,

             1 _About the Author
                     Jami Vigil has served as the presiding judicial officer for the Fourth Judicial District Family Treatment Drug Court (FTDC) since
                     October 2011. Magistrate Vigil handles a full juvenile docket, including dependency and neglect, adoption, relinquishment,
                     paternity, and support cases. Prior to becoming a magistrate, she worked for many years in the areas of immigration, criminal,
                     juvenile, and probate law. Magistrate Vigil would like to thank Andrea Sivanich, problem-solving coordinator for FTDC, for her
                     assistance in reviewing this article.

Judges' Corner is published quarterly to provide information Colorado judges would like to disseminate to attorneys. If you would like to suggest topics
or write an article for this Department, please send an email to Coordinating Editor Stephanie Dunn, Colorado Court of Appeals Judge, at stephanie.

The Colorado Lawyer | April 2016 | Vol. 45, No. 4    51

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