Report: Juvenile Justice System Is Failing Native Youth

By Kenrya Rankin Aug 03, 2015

According to a report from the Tribal Law and Policy Institute, when it comes to status offenses—behaviors that are illegal specifically because of the age of the accused like alcohol consumption and truancy—Native American teens in the tribal system are twice as likely to be referred to the state court system than their white counterparts. In fact, the 2015 Indian Law and Order Commission report reveals that while Native American youth only make up 1.8 percent of the total youth population, they represent 3.6 percent of those detained. And once they are in the system, they are more likely to be placed in detention and less likely to get probation.

This despite the fact that a 2014 report from then Attorney General Eric Holder said that prevention and treatment programs, as well as caseworkers are more effective at redirecting students than incarceration. 

Among the Indian Law and Order Commission’s recommendations for helping Native youth thrive:

  • Enhance tribal jurisdiction over Native children
  • Provide fully funded resources that address the underlying issues that contribute to offenses, such as substance abuse and violence and mental health issues
  • Create alternatives to detention, including trauma screening and counseling
  • When children are detained, keep them close to their families