Oliver Semans: A needless death in criminal justice system

"As a Lakota, I was taught to respect life and death. Living on the reservation, death is all too common. From young to old, we have all felt the pain of losing loved ones before their time. Death on our reservations in one way or another touches each and every one of us, even if we live elsewhere. The death of a young Indian man also tells me, we mustn’t forget Tribal members who are out of sight out of mind in shockingly high proportions in the criminal justice system and that their deaths touches us, too.

When I was contacted in reference to a young Indian man, Antony “Tony” Lester, 26 years of age, who lost his life by suicide while in prison in Arizona, it brought back memories of my 23-year-old nephew, Alfonzo Lee Farmer, who also lost his life by suicide in an Arizona prison and whose funeral I attended just last month.

According to the 2010 Census, there are 5.2 million Native American Indians, and we make up 0.9 percent of the total population. In many states, we are incarcerated in great disproportion to our population numbers. In my state, South Dakota, we make up we are 8.8 percent of the population and yet we make up 23 percent and 35 percent respectively of all inmates and 50% of female prisoners are Native American Indians. In Wyoming, we are 2.4 percent of the population and we make up 7 percent of prisoners. In Montana, we are 6.3 percent of the population and we are 18.8 percent of men and 29.6 percent of women in prison. According to the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Native children make up 50 percent of youngsters in the federal prison system."

Get the Story:
Oliver J. Semans: A Needless Death: The Tony Lester Story (Indian Country Today 4/4)

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