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Researchers who wish to conduct informative and appropriate studies of American Indian and Alaska Native communities face a number of challenges, including the lack of available data.
Based on their experiences, the CIRCLE Project  evaluation team provided the following advice to help future researchers collect and analyze tribal criminal justice data:
- Know the context. Researchers should understand local criminal justice systems and find out where and how to conduct data searches.
- Engage community members in data collection. Local community members can better gather and interpret data than outside researchers.
- Talk to people across the political spectrum, both on and off the reservation. This limits bias when interpreting data.
- Focus data analysis on improving a tribe's criminal justice system. The analysis should not blame individuals or organizations for what is wrong.
- Use relevant literature to analyze and interpret a tribe's criminal justice data. Data that describe what works in other communities — even outside Indian Country — may help a Native American nation better understand its own situation.
- Examine how crime and safety problems are related to criminal justice system functioning. Researchers may wish to consider:
- System operations (e.g., Does the tribe's criminal justice system lack training or equipment? Does a method used to patrol an area work efficiently?)
- Fiscal resources (e.g., Would more funding for any specific program or technology help the entire system function better?)
- Political stability (e.g., Do certain aspects of the tribe's criminal justice system make it vulnerable to opportunism and exploitation?)
- System design (e.g., Should a tribe focus on community policing or another policing method? What public safety issues are dominant in a tribe?)
[note 1] The CIRCLE Project — the Comprehensive Indian Resources for Community and Law Enforcement Project — was a partnership of several agencies in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe and Pueblo of Zuni to strengthen the tribes' criminal justice systems. As part of the initiative, the National Institute of Justice and its DOJ partners funded an evaluation of the CIRCLE Project.
Funds came from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Corrections Program Office, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office for Victims of Crime, Office on Violence Against Women, and Office of the Comptroller. Some of this money would have been invested in Indian Country anyway; however, the native nations participating in CIRCLE received between 40 percent and 400 percent more from participating DOJ agencies than comparable tribes. Learn more about the CIRCLE Project and its evaluation.