Sen. Dorgan: Floor Statement on S.3320, Tribal Law and Order Act of 2008'
The following is the floor statement by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) on the introduction of S.3320, Tribal Law and Order Act of 2008.
Mr. President, as Chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs, I have overseen five hearings this Congress that confirm a longstanding and life threatening public safety crisis on many of our Nation's American Indian reservations.
One of the primary causes for violent crime is the disjointed system of justice in Indian country that is broken at its core. The current system limits the authority of Tribes to fight crime, and requires tribal communities to rely completely on the United States to investigate and prosecute violent crimes occurring on reservations.
This is a system that the United States created. With this responsibility, comes a legal obligation to provide for the public safety on Indian lands. Unfortunately, we are not meeting our obligation.
Between 2004 and 2007, the United States has declined to pursue an average of 62 percent of reservation criminal cases referred for prosecution. This means that 75 percent of adult and child sex crimes and 50 percent of homicides on Indian lands went unpunished in those four years.
This is an inherent flaw in the system. The system vests the prosecution of reservation crimes in the federal courts which are often located hundreds of miles away from the crime scene, the evidence, and the witnesses needed to prosecute these difficult cases.
The results of this system include an epidemic of domestic and sexual violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women. The Department of Justice reports that 34 percent of Native women will be raped in their lifetimes. This past February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 39 percent of Native women will be subject to domestic violence. These rates are more than twice the national average.
This broken system of justice has also drawn the unwanted attention of criminals to Indian lands. In recent years, reservations have been targeted as safe havens for criminal activity. One Federal prosecutor said that Indian lands are being used as pipelines by drug organizations to funnel their poison to tribal and nearby communities. These drugs eventually reach larger metropolitan areas.
To address this crisis, I am pleased to announce the introduction of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2008 with the support of my colleagues Committee Vice Chairwoman MURKOWSKI, and Senators BIDEN, DOMENICI, BAUCUS, BINGAMAN, LIEBERMAN, KYL, JOHNSON, SMITH, CANTWELL, THUNE, and TESTER.
This bill seeks to take initial steps at mending this broken system by arming tribal justice officials with tools to protect their communities.
The bill would expand on a program to enable tribal police to enforce violations of Federal laws on Indian lands.
The bill would also provide police greater access to vital criminal history information.
Further, the bill would enable tribal courts to sentence offenders up to 3 years in prison for violations of tribal law, an increase from the current limit of 1 year.
Title I of the bill would provide for greater consultation and coordination between federal law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, and community members. Increased communication and coordination at all levels of government responsible for crime on Indian lands is vital to combating this public safety emergency.
To increase coordination of prosecutions, the bill would require U.S. Attorneys to file declination reports and maintain data when refusing to pursue a case. Maintaining consistent data on declinations will enable Congress to direct funding where the additional resources are needed.
This bill was developed over the past 18 months in consultation with tribal leaders, tribal, federal and state law enforcement officials, and many others.
I want to again thank my colleagues for their support of this legislation, and urge the Senate to act to meet our public safety obligations to all tribal communities.
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