Congress Holds Hearing On Native American Juvenile Justice

By  Laurel Morales, Fronteras

The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing July 15 on juvenile justice in Indian Country. It comes on the heels of three recent reports that conclude the system is failing Native American youth.

Native American youth suffer staggeringly high rates of substance abuse, exposure to violence and suicide. When those kids get in trouble, many tribes don’t want them locked up. The senators asked the panel for steps Congress could take to improve the juvenile justice system.

Darren Cruzan, BIA deputy director of justice services, said courts both on and off the reservation need to assess each case individually to decide what kind of help that child needs.

“We are working on an assessment tool that will better help courts, when offenders do come into the system, point them toward the services they need,” Cruzan said. “It may be anger management. It may be suicide ideations. It may be drug or alcohol treatment.”

University of Nevada Las Vegas professor Addie Rolnick said assessments are great, but more needs to be done.

“You can do all the screening in the world and you can do it well but if you have nothing to do with those kids after you screen them,” Rolnick said. “You could find out all the kids, 90 percent of the kids, were suffering from mental health issues. But if there was no where to put them it wouldn’t matter that you screened them.”

Rolnick called for funding of prevention efforts, diversion programs and other alternatives to jail. She also suggested amendments to federal juvenile justice laws that include tribes.