Special Feature: Tribal Justice
Studies suggest that crime rates are much higher for Native Americans compared with the national average. Findings from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, for example, show that more than 80 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native adults (more than 84 percent for women and more than 81 percent for men) have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime.
Across tribal communities, services for crime victims vary widely. These services are sometimes located within tribal organizations that serve women and children, promote child and family welfare, and sponsor tribal community-based programming that focuses on safety and accountability.
Response to sexual victimization in American Indian and Alaska Native communities is complicated by significant challenges, including a lack of resources, little community dialogue on the issue, victim reluctance to report a crime, and a difficulty in coordinating responses across agencies. Some strategies have shown promise in addressing the issue, such as promoting community partnerships, hosting community forums to encourage open and honest dialogue, and offering healing options that incorporate tribal beliefs and customs.
Missing children cases also present unique challenges and time plays an even more critical role in these situations. Primarily, agencies must quickly determine who has jurisdiction over the case. Any number of law enforcement agencies may have jurisdiction to conduct the investigation depending upon where the crime was committed, who committed the crime, and the nature of the crime.
In November 2019, Attorney General Barr launched the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Initiative to address missing and murdered Native Americans. MMIP places coordinators in some U.S. Attorney's offices to develop protocols for a more coordinated law enforcement response to cases.
Tribes also face unique challenges in information sharing and accessing federal databases. To help, the U.S. Department of Justice launched the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP) in August 2015, which includes funding support from SMART and OVC within OJP. TAP allows tribes to more effectively serve and protect their communities by ensuring the exchange of critical data across the Criminal Justice Information Services systems and other national crime information systems.
As a way to address specific needs in tribal communities, Healing to Wellness Courts are special dockets established within the general tribal court criminal or civil process to handle cases involving individuals who have committed offenses resulting from their abuse of alcohol or other substances. Since 1995, tribal nations have implemented more than 120 Healing to Wellness Courts to support both adults and juveniles.
As part of the FY 2019 Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS), the Department of Justice awarded over $273.4 million to improve public safety, enhance law enforcement practices, serve crime victims, combat violence against women, and support youth programs in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
To learn more, visit the pages below for information and resources produced or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs and other federal agencies: