A 1938 law sweeps American Indian and Alaska Native youth into the federal criminal justice system when they commit anything beyond misdemeanor crimes.
Although American Indians comprise little more than 1 percent of the nation’s population, one 10-year study found that at any given time 43-to-60 percent of juveniles held in federal custody were American Indian, a wildly disproportionate number.
Once there, they serve sentences far longer than other juveniles sentenced locally for similar offenses.
These are among the findings of the final report from the national Indian Law & Order Commission, chaired by former United States Attorney Troy Eid of Denver. The “Roadmap for Making Native America Safer” turns particularly urgent in its call to reform juvenile justice in Indian country.
Constantly exposed to poverty, addictions and all manners of violence from domestic assault to suicide to murder, Native youth experience post-traumatic distress disorder at a rate of 22 percent, equivalent to that among American troops returning from war, the report shows. Juveniles caught up in the federal system effectively “go missing” from their tribes.
“Juvenile justice for Native kids has not changed since the 1930s,” Eid said in an interview with I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS. “They’re automatically transferred into federal jurisdiction. It’s just extraordinary no one has reassessed that. There isn’t juvenile justice within the Bureau of Prisons. It doesn’t exist there. There’s no diversion, no drug courts, no education. There are no books, no programs to reintegrate into society, nothing. It’s really very sad.
“And it doesn’t square with out constitution.”