Aaron Arnold is director of the Tribal Justice Exchange, a program of the Center for Court Innovation, a think tank closely associated with New York courts.
The exchange has worked with more than 40 tribes, including New York's St. Regis Mohawks, which tapped the group for help in training for its reentry program and planning for a drug court that takes referrals from a local town court and district attorney's office.
But the exchange's benefits do not flow one way, Arnold notes.
The center launched a conflict resolution pilot program in Brooklyn last month based on tribal justice approaches to peace-making. The program was "the first attempt in the country to take traditional tribal justice and test it in a state court setting," Arnold said.
Arnold, 35, who is also the director of the center's Syracuse office, had no experience in American Indian law before becoming the exchange's director in 2008.
As a corporate attorney and a prosecutor in Arizona before returning to his hometown of Syracuse, Arnold had a firsthand look at the "conventional, ingrained way of doing things" in courts and held "an inchoate feeling that things could be better."
He joined the center in 2006, which gave him "new thinking" about how to improve the justice system. Becoming the exchange's director took his thinking "a giant step farther," he said.
He noted that many tribes are developing courts or broadening the scope of existing ones. "It's an extremely exciting time to be involved in the movement of growing tribal courts," he said. "We feel like there are a large number of tribal courts that are trying to engage in new thinking about the justice system, just like we are."
Q: You work for the Center for Court Innovation on a program called the Tribal Justice Exchange, which offers assistance to American Indian tribal courts around the country. How did you get involved?
A: In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice asked the Center for Court Innovation to begin assisting tribal courts. We called our initiative the Tribal Justice Exchange in order to emphasize our commitment to a two-way conversation with tribes. We would share our experiences and offer assistance to tribes where appropriate, but we would also set out to learn about tribal justice practices that could inform the work of state courts. Since launching the exchange, we have worked with over 40 tribes across the country.