Indian Law & Order Commission to Discuss Indian Justice System Reforms

Problems with the Indian justice system will be discussed by a federally mandated advisory panel this week at the Talking Stick Hotel on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

Law enforcement on Native American lands, from arrest to sentencing, remains unequal and less effective than that found in non-Indian jurisdictions, despite a two-year-old federal law intended to make reforms.

The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 focuses on helping reduce domestic violence against women, which occurs on reservations at several times the national average, and expands both federal oversight and the powers of tribal courts: "Special Assistant US Attorneys will be deputized under the Act to prosecute reservation crimes in Federal courts, and tribes will be given greater authority to hold perpetrators accountable."

The law also created the Indian Law & Order Commission, now touring the country and meeting with various local officials.

Commissioners are scheduled to inspect the Salt River tribe's detention facilities tomorrow morning, then attend various hearings through Friday.

The Department of Justice is funding the tour.

Lack of prosecutions, harsh sentences for juveniles and rank corruption plague the Indian lands. Native Americans, both crime victims and criminals, suffer the most under the system. Federal sentences for Indian juveniles are "about twice as long as those imposed under state court" due to the lack of a separate juvenile justice system, according to a column last spring by Troy Eid, a former Colorado U.S. Attorney and current Indian Law & Order Commission member.

The fact that vehicles are being seized on the Loop 101 for minor pot possession shows how injustices in the system can also zap non-Indians.

Commission members have several more events through this summer, then will report to Congress with their findings.

We asked the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office for comment about the Talking Stick event. Here's the reply:

The US Attorney's office recognizes the importance of these Field Hearings.

Acting US Attorney Ann Birmingham Scheel will attend as an observer. The purpose of these hearings is to get input from tribal officials, community members, state law enforcement--those who are not part of the federal system.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.