Native Lives Matter

One of the items students in my Indian Law class will be reading for next week’s classes is the Lakota People’s Law Project study, Native Lives MatterA number of disturbing figures leap out.

 “Although Native youth are only 1 percent of the national youth population, 70 percent of youth committed to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) as delinquents are Native American, as are 31 percent of youth committed to the BOP as adults.”

“Native men are admitted to prison at 4 times the rate of white men and Native women are admitted to prison at 6 times the rate of white women.”

While “Native American youth represent 1 percent of the U.S. population, yet they constitute 2-3 percent of the youth arrested for larceny, theft, and liquor law violations.”

“In 2008, tribal youth served an average of 26 months under federal jurisdiction, which was more than double the tribal justice system maximum sentence of 12 months.”

“In four states (South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, and Montana), Native youth account for anywhere from 29 to 42 percent of youth in secure confinement. Of all youth in the nation who are prosecuted federally, 32 percent are placed in a secure facility for juvenile offenders and 74 percent of these are Native American.   Lastly, from 2004 to 2008, the average conviction rate for tribal youth (92 percent) was higher than for non-tribal youth (87 percent).

“In total, the number of Native Americans per capita confined in state and federal prisons is approximately 38 percent above the national average. The rate of confinement in local jails has been estimated to be nearly four times the national average.”

“According to the latest Bureau of Justice Statistics iteration on the topic, Native Americans are the victims of violent crimes at more than twice the rate of all United States residents–the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 88 percent of violent crime committed against Native American women is done so by non-Native perpetrators.”

The study is well documented, and offers a number of solutions:  South Dakota must hire a police force that reflects the population it patrols.  It must eliminate the for-profit elements in the state’s criminal justice system.  South Dakota should stop viewing its corrupt foster care system as a way to make money from the federal government through the placement of native children. And, finally, tribes should be given jurisdiction over crimes committed by Native American children.


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