American Indians and the Juvenile Justice System

Below is a current event assignment I did for my Sociology Class on Juvenile Justice. I chose to find an article that focused on American Indians because I feel that we are often looked over. I decided to post this here at the tail end of Columbus Day in the hopes that some people may start to give American Indians a first look. To me, today is Indigenous Peoples Day and I hope that you will spend it’s final hour and some time in your future giving the Indigenous peoples of this nation some thought.
Thank you.


Main Article:
Though I am uncertain of this particular websites credentials, the article was written by Robert Winters, Juris Doctorate, Professor, School of Criminal Justice, Kaplan University. It is the author’s credentials which lead me to take this article, written about an often ignored subject, seriously. Though, the language may be seen as somewhat accusatory, I don’t believe that there is any bias in Winters writing. I also believe that the accusatory tone is used appropriately because so many people find it easy to ignore the plights that face modern day American Indians and the confusing judicial law that surrounds the children living on and off reservations. It is my opinion that the purpose of this writing is to bring attention to an important issue that is all too often cast aside. American Indian children are subject to a more complicated law system than other minorities because of issues surrounding a sliding scale of sovereignty. Not all tribes have the same laws or the same level of sovereignty. Where one reservation may have a tribal police force, another may have had to give up a piece of their sovereignty to give state police jurisdiction on tribal land. These nuanced issues make for a particularly worrisome run through what can be up to three judicial systems for a minor.


This is a common issue for American Indians which is not often reported on. For instance, this article is two years old, and was the most recent relevant one I could find. More media coverage might help in the sense that it could encourage more research on the subject and through that, hopefully reform. Though there are some similarities in how American Indians, Black people, and other minorities are treated once in the system, they can arrive there by completely different means. Jurisdiction with American Indians is foggy at best. There are three different jurisdictions when taking into account a child of Native descent; Tribal, State, and Federal. Depending on the crime committed a Native child could be under just one jurisdiction, or all three. As often as possible tribes try to take care of situations internally and  as stated in the article, “Native American culture historically did not use confinement as a criminal punishment. Most tribal court systems rely on restitution, community service, mental health treatment and counseling, and probation to answer juvenile crimes…”. When confinement is deemed necessary, often in cases not allowed to be handled by Tribal leaders, most reservations are ill equipped and don’t have juvenile facilities on tribal land, so the child must be held off-reservation, bringing it’s own list of complications.


As I hope I have made clear, one of the main concerns with American Indians in the juvenile justice system is that, as with American Indians as a whole, they are not a concern at all. It is not that American Indians are ignored, it’s that they are simply not thought of at all. People outside of Native populated areas are more often to think that American Indians get things for free then they are to believe that they are in need of help. I can’t say how many times I have answered the question, “You get to go to college for free, right?” But, it speaks to how blind the average person is of American Indian issues. (The answer by the way, is: No. I do not get to go to college for free. I am in debt just like everyone else.) The only way to make people more aware is speak out in situations like our class.


There is no specific case being referenced here, but as is the case of many Native children, being taken from their home is not the answer, neither is being tried as an adult or being placed in an adult facility. Moving a child from the reservation to a detention facility will only succeed in harming the child’s psyche because there are “many standards of conduct expected of them off-reservation,” and they simply are not able to understand. This is not a tale of city mouse and country mouse, this is ripping a child away from their culture and forcing them, on their life, to learn a new one.


The aims of juvenile court are most certainly not being upheld in the case of American Indian children. In these cases, it is my belief that, jurisdiction should rest solely on the Tribal leaders except in the case of violent crimes where the victim is not a tribal member or unless a treaty states otherwise. (As is the case with many reservations who have given up their right to police themselves and handed jurisdiction over to state officials). Native children need to be cared for and disciplined by their own people.


The race-conflict approach best fits this situation because is focus’ on imbalances and conflict between people of different races and cultures. In order to best understand how to make things better for Native children, we must first understand the differences in judicial systems and in culture. The way I grew up is vastly different than any of my friends. I had no idea how different my childhood was from everyone else’s, until I got off the reservation and saw how the rest of the world lives.


To point, in an ideal world millions of people wouldn’t have been slaughtered to the point of near extinction, and treaties would have been kept and followed. Since that isn’t how it happened, the best we can do now is act in the interest of the child. Keep them with their family if possible, and if not at least keep them with their people. American Indians make up only 1% of the US population and yet, “The alcohol-related death rate… stands at 17 times the national rate. Their suicide rate is triple the national average among males aged 15 to 24. Their high school dropout rate is the highest of any racial group…. in  2008 the median age of the Native American population was 28.0 years versus 35.3 years for the US population as a whole. This means these issues [juvenile arrests etc] impact a relatively larger portion of the total Native American population”. American Indians are many peoples in need of hope and support from their communities, as well as their state and federal governments, not to be further marginalized.


For more information:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s