Native Youth Justice Reform
The Association has commenced a project to address the disparate treatment of Native American youth and develop alternatives to detention for Native youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. We have convened Tribal leaders, judges, staff and juvenile justice experts to
- Share the experiences of Tribes, states and localities working with Native youth to increase alternatives to detention through the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), including a discussion of the barriers that may have limited the efficacy of JDAI in this context
- Provide Tribal representatives with the opportunity to share their perspectives on juvenile justice issues; and discuss and brainstorm about next steps that might be taken to utilize alternatives and culturally appropriate programming more effectively to improve Tribal youth advocacy and address disparities in the treatment of Native Americans by federal and state juvenile justice systems.
Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative:
Examining How JDAI Sites Interact with Native Youth and Tribes
The rate of incarceration for Native youth is higher than any other racial or ethnic group. Scholars have found that the disproportionate rates are likely linked to institutional racism, coupled with historic intergenerational trauma. The Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) has recently published its report, Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative: Examining How JDAI Sites Interact with Native Youth and Tribes, which analyzes how JDAI sites interact with Native youth and Tribes and makes recommendations about how JDAI sites can improve their efforts to find culturally appropriate alternatives to incarceration for Native youth and collaborate with Tribes.
The study identified two significant findings. First, the majority of JDAI sites who responded to the survey had not developed a reliable process for identifying and collecting data on Native youth. Many of the sites left it to the youth to self-identify or relied on the unilateral determination of a juvenile justice case worker or police officer to identify a youth as Native American. This is problematic as many Native youth do not want to alert their Tribal communities because of feelings of embarrassment or shame. Moreover, a caseworker may misunderstand that Native Americans vary widely in appearance and may mistake a Native youth for Hispanic, black or white.
Second, the study revealed that the majority of JDAI sites surveyed were not reaching out to families or Tribal communities to collect information on a youth’s status as a citizen or member of a Tribe, were not providing notice to the Tribe of the youth’s offenses, nor determining whether there were culturally appropriate services available to Native youth. Tribes are sovereign nations, often with their own culturally appropriate services, including alternatives to detention.
AAIA found emerging best practices within some JDAI sites in Arizona, Montana, New Mexico and Washington. These JDAI sites are developing programs that promote collaboration with Tribes, including changes to state laws and policies, procedures that require information sharing, juvenile code development, at-risk and former offender identification processes, culturally-relevant community service programming and even cultural awareness training for court staff and community partners.
AAIA’s report provides quantitative and qualitative proof that though there are a few sites with emerging best practices, generally JDAI sites have not developed consistent and culturally appropriate protocols to collect robust data and connect Native youth to culturally appropriate alternatives to detention — two critical issues of JDAI. The report provides recommendations for JDAI sites including developing protocols to identify Native youth by working with families and Tribes, building relationships with Tribal juvenile justice staff and obtaining training about Tribes in their regions.