Overcrowding in Indian Country jails the norm
Tuesday, December 2, 2003

For the fourth year in a row, a federal government report has found overcrowding at jails throughout Indian Country.

Since 1998, the number of inmates housed in tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs facilities has jumped 26 percent, the Department of Justice reported. According to data released last month, the jails were operating at 92 percent capacity, an increase from the year prior.

In total, Indian Country facilities housed 2,080 people as of midyear 2002, up a slight 2 percent from the previous year. But the total number of admissions during just the month of June was 11,822, up a whopping 22 percent.

"On their peak day in June 2002, jails were operating at 126% of capacity," the report, compiled by DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics, stated.

Some detention facilities fared far worse than others. The Tohono O'odham Detention Center on the Tohono O'odham Nation of Arizona was operating at 297 percent capacity as of midyear 2002. The Pine Ridge Correctional Facility on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota was 250 percent occupied.

The largest 10 jails held 39 percent of all inmates, the report stated. Seven of the 10 are located in Arizona. The adult facilities on the Gila River, Hopi, Navajo, San Carlos Apache, White Mountain Apache reservations were operating near or above capacity. The juvenile facility on the Gila River Reservation was 61 percent full as of midyear 2002.

The statistics reflect an unchanging picture in Indian Country since at least 1998. The number of inmates continues to grow even as new jails are built and old jails are expanded, according to statistics.

But the numbers dwarf those of city and county facilities throughout the U.S. As of midyear 2002, these jails housed three times as many inmates as Indian jails. Overall, state, federal, local and tribal authorities were supervising 47,724 American Indians and Alaska Natives -- although most (25,479) were under community supervision.

As with similar reports during the Bush administration, the report, "Jails in Indian Country, 2002," was quietly released last month. The Clinton administration made a point at announcing the findings of the annual survey, which was first published in July 2000.

During the Bush administration, funding for Indian Country jails and law enforcement has been cut. In the omnibus appropriations act that will be voted on by the House next week, funding for prison construction, tribal courts and alcohol and substance abuse was reduced to $15 million. But the amount lawmakers are willing to allocate is far more than the $4.4 million the Bush administration requested for these areas.

According to the report, 35 percent of Indian inmates were being held for violent crimes. Of these, 15 percent were domestic violence related.

Overall, 11 percent were being held for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, up from 9 percent in 2001, the report stated.

The overwhelming majority, 82 percent, of inmates in the Indian Country jails were male. Juveniles under the age of 18 accounted for 15 percent of the total population.

Get the Report:
Jails in Indian Country, 2002 (November 2003)

Prior Reports:
Year 2001 | Year 2000 | Years 1998-1999

Related Stories:
Tribes lobbying against 'harmful' appropriations riders (11/10)
Indian Country jails see record growth (09/05)
Indian Country jails see increased numbers (8/13)
Behind Bars: Native incarceration rates increase (7/13)
New study focuses on jails (7/10)

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