The Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) represents an important step in helping the Federal Government better address the unique public safety challenges that confront tribal communities. As President Obama said when he proudly signed the act into law in July 2010, “It is unconscionable that crime rates in Indian Country are more than twice the national average and up to 20 times the national average on some reservations.”
This week marks the two-year anniversary of the enactment of the Tribal Law and Order Act, and as implementation of the law continues, the Act is already improving the Federal Government’s ability to work with Indian tribes in the investigation and prosecution of crime impacting tribal communities.
This important law gives tribes greater sentencing authority, improves defendants’ rights, establishes new guidelines and training for officers handling domestic violence and sexual assault, helps combat alcohol and drug abuse, expands the recruitment and retention of Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal officers, and gives those officers better access to criminal databases.
Just recently, the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women recently announced that four tribes in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, and the Dakotas will be awarded cooperative agreements through the Tribal Special U.S. Attorney (SAUSA) program to cross-designate tribal prosecutors to pursue violence-against-women cases in both tribal and federal courts.
Additionally, in August 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a new federal framework to assist American Indian and Alaska Native communities achieve their goals in the prevention, intervention, and treatment of alcohol and substance abuse. The framework, captured in a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed by Attorney General Holder, Secretary Sebelius, and Secretary Salazar was published in the Federal Register. One aspect of the multi-agency collaboration is a quarterly newsletter titled “Prevention and Recovery.” The Summer 2012 issue can be viewed here.
These initiatives have been implemented alongside a number of additional efforts to strengthen public safety in Indian Country. The Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Initiative have entered into a joint venture aimed at strengthening tribal sovereignty over criminal matters in Indian Country. To that end, in March 2012, the first of seven tribal court advocacy trainings was offered throughout the United States. As required under the TLOA, these trainings offer courses specific to the prosecution of domestic violence cases, sexual assault cases, and illegal narcotics cases which occur in Indian Country and are prosecuted in tribal court. Moreover, the TLOA requires training on alternative sentencing. To that end, DOI has partnered with several tribal courts and instituted pilot programs, such as GPS monitoring and alcohol monitoring ankle devices for adult offenders.
President Obama is committed to making Native American communities safer and more secure. Although we have made progress, tribal communities still face many challenges and much work remains to be done. The Administration continues to build on the progress of the Tribal Law and Order Act. On June 18, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) announced a new publication issued by its Office of Justice Services entitled, “Crime-Reduction Best Practices Handbook: Making Indian Communities Safe 2012.” The Crime Reduction Handbook contains ideas and techniques for combating crime and improving public safety in Indian Country and represents a valuable resource for tribal leaders, their police departments, and their law enforcement partners. In addition, reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act is another legislative priority that will do much to advance the public safety agenda in Indian Country by strengthening protections for all women, including Native Americans. In particular, the tribal provisions in the bipartisan version of VAWA passed by the Senate would provide tribes with the authority to hold offenders accountable for their crimes against Native American women, regardless of the perpetrator’s race. Congress should approve the bipartisan version of VAWA passed by the Senate.
The Obama Administration will keep striving to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of tribal justice systems and continue to assist tribal and federal prosecutors in addressing crime and domestic violence in Indian Country.
Jodi Gillette is Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs, White House Domestic Policy Council.