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Overview of Tribal Crime and Justice

Date Published
June 23, 2016

Studies suggest that crime rates are much higher for Native Americans compared with the national average. [1] According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, American Indians (AI) and Alaska Native​s (AN) experience violent crimes at rates far greater than the general population. [2] Representative studies of crime and violence, however, have never been done across all tribal communities.

For the most part, frequently cited statistics from national surveys come from studies completed outside Indian Country — reservations, tribal communities and trust land — and Alaska Native villages. [3] For example, although the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) collects victimization data from self-identified AI and AN people, the NCVS cannot be used to produce reliable estimates of violence against Native Americans, either on or off reservation. The NCVS sample includes some households in Indian Country, but these households do not constitute a representative sample for Indian Country, nor is the number of sample cases sufficient to produce reliable estimates of crime victimization in Indian Country. For this reason, NCVS data do not provide tribal-specific crime rates or estimates of crime in Indian Country. [4]

Sampling approaches of most large-scale studies of violence against women have not asked respondents if their victimization occurred on a reservation or on land meeting the federal definition of Indian Country. As a result, these studies have not captured the experiences of women living in Indian Country. [5] Moreover, these earlier studies have classified respondents as AI and AN based on self-identification rather than tribal enrollment or affiliation.

Currently, no single definition of “Indian” satisfies all legal, social and personal requirements. In fact, many different definitions of AI and AN are used in health care, social service, government and academic contexts. When determining whether a person is regarded as an “Indian,” the primary factors to be considered include tribal enrollment, tribal affiliation, and formal government recognition. For many federal jurisdictional and statutory purposes, the person must be considered a member of a federally recognized tribe. [6] Because enrollment is often the key to acceptance as a member of the tribal community, it provides by far the best evidence of Indian status.

Data on crime and victimization in Indian Country are severely limited. NIJ's AI and AN crime and justice research program gathers much-needed practical, measurable and descriptive information on methods and efforts employed by Native American communities in providing victim services, addressing public safety issues, preventing and controlling crime and violence, and strengthening tribal justice systems.

Date Published: June 23, 2016