BIDEN Endorses Bill to Fight Crime, Ensure Justice for Native Americans
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) urged colleagues today to support the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2008. The legislation, introduced by Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND), is designed to improve prevention programs, drug and alcohol abuse treatment, law enforcement and prosecutorial capabilities, and incarceration facilities on Native American Tribal lands.
"The federal government is failing in our responsibility to help maintain law and order on tribal lands," said Sen. Biden, a leading cosponsor of the bill. "It's a known fact that substance abuse, domestic abuse and sexual abuse are on the rise on many Indian reservations. We must provide the necessary tools to help keep these communities safe, and increase coordination and cooperation efforts with state and federal agencies."
Rising levels of methamphetamine abuse and domestic and sexual violence are just two examples of the crime wave sweeping across many Indian reservations. Part of the problem rests with the limited resources to hire, train, and equip law enforcement on reservations. There are less than 2 law enforcement officers per 1,000 residents on tribal lands compared to a range of 3.9-6.6 officers per 1,000 residents in non-tribal areas. Criminals also exploit the jurisdictional tangle of local, state, tribal, and federal responsibility - jurisdiction over an offense is determined by the severity of crime committed, whether the perpetrator is Native American, whether the victim in Native American, and whether the crime occurred on tribal lands. A lack of coordination and communication between responsible authorities often frustrates effective law enforcement, and many serious cases simply slip through the cracks. The effects are dire.
Like Sen. Biden's comprehensive crime bills, the 1994 Crime Bill and the Crime Control and Prevention Act of 2007 (S.2237), the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2008 pursues a full spectrum approach to fighting crime.
The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2008 will:
* Enhance coordination between the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and tribal communities about the investigation and prosecution of Indian country crimes;
* Encourage more aggressive prosecution of reservation crimes at the federal level. Between 2004 and 2007, the United States declined to prosecute 62 percent of Indian country criminal cases referred to federal prosecutors;
* Expand programs that authorize tribal police to make arrests for all crimes committed on Indian lands, and that provide direct access to national crime databases to arm police with vital criminal history information about suspects;
* Invest in existing programs meant to improve courts, jails, youth programs, and policing efforts in Indian Country;
* Address the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault in Indian Country by enhancing training and coordination to aid the investigation and prosecution of crimes of sexual violence; and
* Enhance the sentencing authority of tribal courts to punish offenders with up to three years imprisonment. Current law limits tribal court sentencing authority to no more than one year.
The National Congress of American Indians, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Amnesty International have voiced their support for this legislation. In addition to Sen. Biden, Senate cosponsors include Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Pete V. Domenici (R-NM), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Gordon Smith (D-OR), Jon Tester (D-MT), and John Thune (D-SD).