New statistics show that American Indian and Native Alaskan girls account for a disproportionate amount of the population in the juvenile justice system.
According to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, American Indian and Native Alaskan girls are nearly five times more likely than white girls to be confined to a juvenile detention facility, the highest rate of incarceration of any ethnic group. PewTrusts reports:
Native girls are 40 percent more likely than white girls to be referred to a juvenile court for delinquency; 50 percent more likely to be detained; and 20 percent more likely to be adjudicated, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice. They are also more likely to face harsher sentences for the same offenses, said Joshua Rovner of The Sentencing Project.
Pew also reports that American Indian girls have the highest rates of commitment to juvenile facilities in Wyoming (1,302 per 100,000), followed by Iowa (860), South Dakota (656), Oregon (568) and North Dakota (535). Although the numbers show that Native boys greatly outnumber girls in juvenile facilities, the differences between Native boys and non-Native boys are not as large as those between Native girls and non-Native girls.
Various programs have been created to provide young Native girls with the resources they need to recover from incarceration, or to avoid it altogether, but these programs are often lacking resources specific to native communities.
“As Indian people, our greatest hope is our children. And our kids are really at risk,” said Carla Fredericks, director of the American Indian Law Clinic at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder. “The only way we can help these girls is if we do it cooperatively, with the states, federal government and within our own communities.”
One program that serves as an example of cooperation between tribal communities, the states, and federal government, comes from the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center in Minneapolis. Minnesota’s Native girls are 18 times more likely to be incarcerated than white girls. Many times these young girls are dealing with addiction, mental health issues, and live in extreme poverty. These conditions make Native girls susceptible to gangs and drug and sex trafficking, said Patina Park, the center’s executive director.
The community center focuses on creating culturally specific programs that can help the Native girls in school, off drugs, and renew their understanding of their culture.
Activist Post recently reported on another example of the disproportionate amount of Native Americans in the criminal justice system. The report was released from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a national nonprofit organization tasked with helping Montana officials reduce prison spending and overcrowding. The Missoulian reported on the release of the study:
The report, presented Tuesday to lawmakers and others appointed to Montana’s Commission on Sentencing, found a 12 percent rise in arrests between 2009 and 2015, despite an 18 percent decline in property and violent crimes between 2000 and 2014. It also found Native Americans represent a disproportionate share of those totals, accounting for nearly one in five arrests while making up only 7 percent of the state’s population.
The destruction of Native communities and ways of life is nothing new for the United States of America. In the second half of the 19th century, Native children were taken from their families and forced into boarding schools, where they were given “American” names, forced to cut their hair short, and forbidden from speaking their own language (read more on the boarding schools here). The treatment varied from nation to nation and was worse for some communities than others, but without a doubt, the trend was towards mental, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as outright denial of connection to their own families and history as a powerful people.
Until the American people and political leaders are ready to have an honest conversation about the continued abuse and destruction of native communities and culture, we will never have healing. Only by acknowledging the crimes of the past and taking steps to reform this shattered system can American Indians hope to find some semblance of peace.
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