Nov 19, 2010

Thinking Reentry in Indian Country

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate on a reentry panel at the Tribal Jail Administrators’ Forum in Albuquerque, New Mexico which was  sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The forum was organized, at least in part, to respond to the growing needs for interagency solutions to “the high and disproportionate rate of confined Indian offenders in secure facilities on and off Indian lands.” Individuals who are members of one of the 564 federally recognized Indian tribes, and who commit crimes on tribal land, can be subject to a tribal justice system, an indigenous justice system, a Court of Indian Offenses, or, in some instances, the U.S. federal justice system or state justice system. According to Strategies for Creating Offender Reentry Programs in Indian County, tribal justice entities and the Bureau of Indian Affairs manage approximately 82 jails and detention facilitates. The Jails in Indian County study determined that the incarceration rate for American Indian/Alaska Natives is about 21% higher than the overall incarceration rate for non AI/AN peoples. Although AL/AN populations only comprise 1% of the U.S. population, Indian offense constitute about 10% of all federal cases.

A response to the to the increasing incarceration rate of Indian people has been to restore dilapidated correction facilities and to build new ones. While some of the conference participants expressed disagreement with growing the capacity of correction facilities (preferring to rely on more traditional and community based interventions such as restorative justice, mentoring, or healing), others felt that increasing the capacity of secure institutions was a necessary move. Some efforts are being made to ensure that new facilities incorporate Indian values by including a healing space, outdoor ovens, and the presence of tribal symbols.

As always, higher incarceration rates means that more individuals will become formerly incarcerated and require support services to successfully reintegrate. To talk about these concerns, two experts on reentry in Indian County, Ida Melton, National Reentry Resource Center and Candida Hunter, Hualapi Tribe, Green Reentry Initiative, and I, spoke on a Reentry panel. Ms. Ida Melton highlighted some of the key barriers to reentry in Indian Country including, a lack of formal relationships between state and federal prisons or jail facilities with tribes or tribal justice authority, little communication between federal prisons, and in some instances jails, that an incarcerated individual is retuning home, a lack of culturally competent care or services in the facilitates, the distance of correctional facilitates from tribal lands, and little funding for reentry programming. Ms. Melton also stressed the need to incorporate culturally competent strategies, engaging the values of the individual’s tribal membership (which vary depending on which tribe the individual is returning to) when creating which reentry programming. Candida Hunter highlighted the juvenile reentry program that she operates in Indian Country which focuses on fostering a sense of responsibility and healing through gardening and creating community. Although the cultural divide between individuals returning to New York City, and those returning to Indian Country is notable, my presentation focused on a core component of any successful reentry programming-the engagement of the community and interagency collaboration.