New study focuses on jails
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JULY 10, 2000

A new study by the Department of Justice focuses on jails and incarceration in Indian Country, highlighting overcrowding problems as well as the need for more training and staff.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted a two year study of 69 jails, detention centers, or other correction facilities. The facilities are located in 18 states and are affiliated with 53 tribes.

Over the two year period from 1998 to 1999, the study reports an 8% increase in the amount of detainees held by Indian jails. At midyear 1999, 1,693 inmates were detained, compared to 1,567 in midyear 1998.

Although jails in Indian Country have a total capacity of 2,118, many were operating well above capacity. On peak day in June 1999, 15 jails were operating above 150% capacity and over half were operating above 100%.

The jail on the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota and the Pine Ridge Correctional Facility on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota had the two highest capacity rates. Fort Berthold, rated to hold 9 inmates, was instead housing 32.

The Pine Ridge facility, rated to hold 24, was instead holding 84.

Not surprisingly, jails in Indian Country report more training and more staff as two of their most important needs. Of the 69 surveyed, 67 said they needed more training and 66 said they needed more correctional officers.

At midyear 1998, there were 2.6 inmates for every Indian jail employee. The national average for small jails, defined as those holding 50 inmates of less, is 2.0 inmates per correctional officer.

Another issue raised by facilities is the need for drug and alcohol treatment programs. The Department of Justice recently awarded grants to tribes to plan, enhance, or implement drug courts, which help treat drug and alcohol offenders, instead of simply incarcerating them.

Tribes maintain jurisdiction over criminal misdemeanor offenses committed by Indians, with federal authorities having concurrent jurisdiction over 14 major felony crimes. Federal authorities have exclusive jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians.

States have exclusive jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-Indian offenders. Some states, including California and Nebraska, also have concurrent criminal jurisdiction over Indians, due to Public Law 280, a federal law which grants jurisdiction over Indian Country to states.

Despite having the second largest population of Indians in the country, according to the 1990 Census, California has no facilities for Indian offenders. Currently, there are just two tribal courts in California, one on the Hoopa Valley reservation and the other on the Cabazon reservation.

Mary Ann Martin Andreas, chairwoman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, feels Public Law 280 hinders her tribe. The tribe has also received a grant through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program of the Department of Justice and is currently planning on implementing their own tribal court.

"We are doing everything we can to strengthen and exercise our sovereignty," said Andreas.

Related Stories:
Tribes awarded key funding (Tribal Law 7/7)
Tribal grantees in Drug Court Program (Tribal Law 7/7)
DOJ: No California tribes applied (Tribal Law 7/7)
Tribes miss out on funds (Tribal Law 7/5)
Violence in Indian Country (The Talking Circle 06/15)

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Jurisdiction in Indian Country.

Relevant Links:
Jails in Indian Country 1998 and 1999, Bureau of Justice Statistics -
The Bureau of Justice Statistics -
Public Law 280: Issues and Concerns for Victims of Crime in Indian Country (Melton, Gardner. Tribal Court Institute)