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August 01, 2015

Association supports empowering Indian tribes with decision-making authority in juvenile justice cases

The ABA urged last month that Indian tribes be empowered with meaningful decision-making authority about their juvenile justice systems and that greater emphasis be placed on providing alternatives to incarceration and culturally appropriate intervention and support.

In a letter submitted for the record of a July 15 oversight hearing held by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the ABA expressed support for the 12 recommendations from the Indian Law and Order Commission’s (ILOC) report entitled A Roadmap for Making Native America Safer.

The recommendations in the independent national advisory commission’s report, released in November 2013, are grounded in findings that Native youth are among the most vulnerable group of children in the United States as a result of centuries of harmful public policies that continue to inflict intergenerational trauma on children in Indian country.

“Upon entering the juvenile justice system, tribal youth are further endangered by being thrust into an exceedingly complicated web of jurisdictional rules and sentencing limitations that subject them to complex and inadequate federal and state juvenile justice systems,” ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman wrote in the ABA letter.

He highlighted recommendations that would: 

  • strengthen tribal jurisdiction by allowing tribes to opt out of state and federal juvenile jurisdiction or give tribes the right to consent to U.S. attorneys’ decisions;
  • provide additional resources for tribes to address youths’ need for treatment;
  • provide alternatives to incarceration within the federal, state and tribal justice systems;
  • detain violent juveniles within a reasonable distance from their homes;
  • amend the Federal Delinquency Act to include tribes and extend tribal authority to oversee prosecution of juveniles as adults; and
  • improve cooperative measures between tribes and local government.

“The recommendations of the ILOC Report regarding juvenile justice in Indian country seek to replace outdated and top-down bureaucracies with locally based approaches that will enable tribal governments to provide justice in their own communities and more effectively address the disproportionate amount of violence occurring in Indian country today,” he said.      

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