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Tribal Justice

Special Feature
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American Indians and Alaska Natives suffer from one of the highest rates of victimization in the country.

Cultural differences, remote locations, and challenging jurisdictional issues create a complex landscape that can make it difficult to serve victims in tribal communities. Additionally, services for crime victims often vary widely from one tribal community to another as many are located within different tribal organizations.

To support tribal justice agencies, the Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, also known as Operation Lady Justice, was formed in November 2019. The task force aims to enhance the operation of the criminal justice system and address the concerns of tribal communities regarding missing and murdered people – particularly missing and murdered women and girls.

The 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.

In August 2020, the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking released an updated guide to provide sex offender registration personnel in Indian Country with useful information to assist in efforts toward implementing and maintaining implementation of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). The second edition of the Guide to SORNA Implementation in Indian Country also contains links to templates and guidance documents designed to help tribes with the implementation process.

Research supported by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) found that village public safety officers in Alaska – paraprofessional first responders serving tribal communities – have significantly affected law enforcement’s response to reported cases of sexual abuse involving minors.

To build research capacity within tribes, NIJ is providing small planning grants to develop proposals for new and innovative criminal justice research projects involving federally recognized tribes and which represent a new tribal-researcher investigator partnership.

Missing children cases also present unique challenges for tribal communities, 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.

Since 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP) has supported tribes to more effectively serve and protect their citizens by ensuring the exchange of critical data across crime information systems. There are currently more than 90 tribes with over 330 tribal government agencies participating in TAP.

As announced in September 2020, DOJ invested more than $295.8 million in grants to improve public safety, serve victims of crime, and support youth programs in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. These awards were made through the FY 2020 Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation and other DOJ funding programs.

To learn more, visit the following pages for information and resources produced or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs and other federal agencies: