Native Americans are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, part of a historical context of colonial occupation, according to a report commissioned by MacArthur as part of its Safety and Justice Challenge. Eras of removal, assimilation, reorganization, and termination rejected tribal sovereignty and justice. The U.S. enforced its own carceral system and federal and state systems of control. Complex webs of jurisdictions make it challenging to identify the correct authorities. Multiple law enforcement agencies—state, federal, tribal—may take action for one incident, setting Native people up for confusion and multiple charges.
Centering Tribal justice systems, Tribal values, and expanding access to services could address some of the continued disparities. One holistic practice in the Tribal Defender’s Office in the Bronx, NY, works to instead meet clients’ needs by collaborating across organizations including support for mental health, reentry, mentoring, driver’s license restoration, mediation, and housing. Practices in tribal communities provide restorative approaches to justice and assistance to Native people in state courts.
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