Brenda Golden: American Indians as prisoners
"To this day Native Americans are overrepresented in jails and prisons. American Indians are incarcerated at a rate 38 percent higher than the national per capita rate. Alaska Natives are incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of their representation in the state population. The number of Native American youth in the federal prison system has increased 50 percent since 1994. Many Native Americans attribute disproportionate incarceration rates to unfair treatment by the criminal justice system, including racial profiling, disparities in prosecution, and lack of access to legal representation.

According to a Department of Justice study, in some Native jails resources are so scarce that inmates do not have blankets, mattresses, or basic hygiene items, such as soap and toothpaste. Many Native Americans have lost faith in the criminal justice system in Indian Country, in part due to its inadequacy and in part due to a perceived bias. The Commission and its State Advisory Committees have held numerous meetings with Native communities over the years, and the sentiment remains unchanged: Native Americans face disparate treatment by law enforcement officials at every level. In South Dakota, for example, a strong perception exists among Native Americans that there is a dual system of justice and that race is a critical factor in determining how law enforcement is carried out. Many contend that violent crimes involving Native Americans are dealt with differently from those involving whites and that violence against Natives is investigated and prosecuted less vigorously. Other problems have been evident, including racial profiling in Indian Country and disparities in arrests, prosecution, legal representation, and sentencing.

Look at the facts: Though American Indians and Alaskan Natives account for less than 1 percent of the U.S. resident population, they make up 1 percent of inmates in jail or prison. For every 100,000 American Indians, 942 were incarcerated. The rate of incarceration was about 24 percent higher than the overall national rate of 761 persons for any other race per 100,000 residents. Between 2000 and 2007, the number of American Indians confined in jails and prisons nationwide grew on average by about 4.6 percent annually.

At midyear 2007, an estimated 4 in 10 inmates in Indian Country jails were confined for a violent offense, according to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. Domestic violence accounted for the largest group of violent offenders — 20 percent — followed by simple or aggravated assault, 13 percent, and rape or sexual assault, 2 percent. Six percent of Indian Country jail inmates were being held for unspecified violent offenses. The percentage of Indian Country jail inmates held for drug offenses was unchanged from 2004 to 2007 at 7 percent each year, while DWI/DUI offenses dropped from 14 percent in 2004 to 8 percent in 2007. A total of 27,674 American Indians were in prison. More than half, or 13,956, were in state prison and about 1 in 10, or 2,955 inmates, was in federal prison. Of the remaining 10,763 inmates, only 2,163 were confined in Indian Country jails, while 8,600 were in local jails. "

Get the Story:
Brenda Golden: American Indian "Injustice" - No Walls of Stone Nor Bars of Iron (The Native American Community Examiner 7/28)

Related Stories:
Brenda Golden: Giving thanks to Indian givers (7/20)
Golden: Slow progress for Oklahoma Indians (6/17)
Brenda Golden: What change means to an Indian person (4/25)

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