December 01, 2015

Senate bill would provide aid to victims of crime on tribal lands

A bipartisan bill ready for a vote by the full Senate would create a direct funding stream from the federal Crime Victims Fund (CVF) to help victims of crime on tribal lands.

S. 1704, the Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment Act (SURVIVE Act), cleared the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in July and was reported to the full Senate this month. Under the bill’s provisions, the Department of Interior would administer a competitive tribal grant program for crime victim services and assistance. 

“The SURVIVE Act will empower tribes with the flexibility to develop programs that meet the needs of their communities,” committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said following committee approval of the bill. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), vice chairman of the committee and a cosponsors of S. 1704 with Barrasso, emphasized that the act “increases resources for local law enforcement and expands services for crime victims.”

The committee report states that the manner in which CVF money is allocated through the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime is not sufficiently flexible to address the unique needs of Indian tribes.

The tribes are required to apply to states for victim compensation and assistance funding, and the significant restrictions on how the funds may be used undermine Indian tribes’ ability to provide services. Over the past five years, Indian tribes have never received more than 0.7 percent of available CVF funds in spite of a disproportionately high rate of victimization among American Indian and Alaska Native populations.

During a June 10 hearing, Darren Cruzan, director of the Office of Justice Services in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, testified that money set aside for tribes would, among other things, allow them to develop comprehensive community-based programs to provide direct and immediate assistance to victims that would include culturally appropriate crisis response and intervention, victim advocacy, and financial assistance for emergency needs such as food and clothing, court accompaniment, and safe homes or shelters.

“Tribes possess the ability to identify and understand the range of issues in their tribal communities; they are also closest to and understand what approaches are suitable and have the potential to create positive change,” he said.

The June 10 hearing was one of several hearings held last summer by Barrasso, who assumed the chairmanship of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee this Congress. He designated criminal and juvenile justice issues in tribal communities as priorities for the committee for the 114th Congress.

The ABA, which submitted letters for the records of two of the hearings, is urging Congress to give tribes more authority to exercise criminal jurisdiction as recommended by two government reports: the Indian Law and Order Commission’s “A Roadmap for Making Native America Safer” and “Ending Violence So Children Can Thrive,” from the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on American Indian/Alaskan Native Children Exposed to Violence.

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