Designed to provide Alaska's villages more tools to promote and sustain safer communities, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today introduced the Alaska Safe Families and Villages Act of 2010. While maintaining the state's primary role and responsibility in criminal matters, the legislation provides funding for up to nine Alaska Native tribes to participate in demonstration projects to improve their local public safety by establishing tribal ordinances, setting up tribal courts and imposing sanctions on violators.
Building on the Tribal Law and Order bill signed into law last week by President Obama, Begich's legislation addresses the remoteness of Alaska Native villages and the inability to provide a 24/7 presence from State Troopers and Village Public Safety Officers. The legislation notes that Alaska villages suffer from disproportionally high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and suicide.
"Unfortunately, because of the vastness of Alaska, too many of our Alaska Native villages lack any law enforcement," Begich said in a floor statement. "Too often, minor cases involving alcohol and domestic abuse go unreported because the nearest State Trooper resides in a hub community, located a long and expensive airplane ride away. Frequently, harsh weather prevents the Troopers from flying into a community even when the most heinous acts have occurred."
According to a 2006 report of the Alaska Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission, more than 95 percent of all crimes in rural Alaska can be attributed to alcohol. The rate of suicide in Alaska villages is six times the national average and alcohol-related mortality rate is 3.5 times the general population.
Begich noted that while the State of Alaska has tried to address the problems, law enforcement in many Alaska villages is still essentially nonexistent.
The legislation calls for an appropriation of $2.5 million for the Tribal Courts Program and $5 million for an Alaska Village Peace Officers program. Eligible tribes could qualify for a $250,000 annual grant under the Courts provision and be eligible for up to $100,000 for the Peace Officers program.
Under the bill, the federal Office of Justice Programs will select up to nine Alaska tribes over a three-year period between fiscal years 2011-13. Selected tribes would remain in the program for five years. The program would work closely with the State of Alaska.
"We must give our communities the tools necessary to protect themselves. Too often, we pour resources into urban areas, but become stuck when we try to work toward solutions for our most remote communities," Begich said. "We should no longer allow the answer from anyone to be "we don't have the resources.' Alaska Native villages are vibrant, strong communities and we should do everything in our power to work with these communities and answer their calls for help."
The legislation is attached to this release.