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Feds and tribe work toward juvenile justice

Native Services’ Boys & Girls Club touted for successes

WASHINGTON – Witnesses testifying Wednesday on juvenile justice before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs had a common message: Defer to tribes.

The committee heard appeals for legislative fixes and funding to clarify tribal authority.

Darren Cruzan, head of the Office of Justice Services for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Addie C. Rolnick, an associate professor at the William S. Boyd School of Law, who challenges federal jurisdiction in prosecuting tribal juveniles, were both adamant that incarceration of Native American juveniles does more harm than good.

Cruzan pointed to the success of pilot programs that involve the federal government in a facilitator role.

“What’s working is having the feds at the table and the tribe pointing to what they need, and the feds saying, ‘OK, we can help with that,’” Cruzan said.

But Rolnick said that doesn’t quite get at the issue of tangled or duplicative prosecution between tribal, state and federal jurisdictions. She stressed the importance of amending the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act and similar laws that subject tribes to state jurisdiction. The law should require prosecutors to defer to tribes, she said.

Robert Listenbee, administrator for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for the Department of Justice, said his office is trying to increase the use of memorandums of understanding between states and tribes. He also asked for a restoration of funds meant to incentivize states’ cooperation with tribes.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., challenged Rolnick’s recommendations, saying that if tribes are given more responsibility, they are going to need more funding.

Rolnick said that while there is a “black hole of information” on tribal detention facilities, tribes have reported the success of preventive-intervention activities such as running groups – or whatever would be culturally relevant for any particular tribe – that are outside official tribal justice programs.

Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo, praised witness Carla Knapp for her work as national director of Native Services for the Boys & Girls Club in America.

Knapp testified that in an outside survey of the group’s former members, 57 percent said the clubs “saved their life,” and that on further probing, many said they meant it literally.

The Boys & Girls Club has 171 sites established across the country, including one that serves the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who wrote the 2016 budget bill for the Department of Interior, which includes the BIA, also supported community efforts. She said native communities in Alaska were devastated when funding was cut for the Boys and Girls Club in her state.

mbaksh@durangoherald.com. Mariam Baksh is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern with The Durango Herald.

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