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Native Sun News: DOJ report highlights activity in Indian Country

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Managing Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Department of Justice reports an upward trend in the number of prosecutions in Indian Country. Attorney General Eric Holder. Photo from DOJ

DOJ releases report on Indian Country
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor

WASHINGTON—Last week the Department of Justice released a second report to congress highlighting its work in Indian Country. The report entitled Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions includes statistics relating to the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, and information on Attorney General Eric Holder’s initiatives to curb violent crime on reservations.

“As detailed in this report, the Department of Justice is making good on our commitment to strengthen cooperation with sovereign tribes, reduce violent crime, and ensure justice for every individual,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. ““From our work to empower Indian women under the landmark Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, to the task force we established to safeguard children in Indian Country from violence and abuse, we have made significant strides – in close partnership with tribal nations – to bolster the safety and security of all American Indian and Alaska Native communities. As we move forward, we will continue to expand on this critical work; to deepen our ongoing efforts; and to reaffirm our dedication to the promise of equal rights, equal protection, and equal justice for all.”

The Justice department has made Indian Country a priority and its efforts to curb the high rates of crime on Indian reservations were reflected in the report. Between 2009 and 2012 a 54% increase was seen in the filing of cases against defendants in Indian Country. The report also noted that in 2013 there was a decrease in the number of overall cases filed but the DOJ placed the blame on the “sequester, reduced budgets, and a hiring freeze” that was put in to place by Congress.

“We are witnessing an unprecedented era of collaboration among U.S. Attorneys’ offices and tribal law enforcement and prosecutors across the country,” said Associate Attorney General West. “This report shows the fruits of this continuing partnership between the federal government and American Indian tribes, including enhancing training and capacity building for tribal court systems and improving responses to victims in Indian country.”

According to the report the Southwest and Northern Plains saw the highest rates of case filings and the lowest rates of declination by prosecutors. South Dakota and Arizona had the highest amount of cases resolved with South Dakota having a declination rate of 26% and Arizona at 28%. The report noted that using declination rates as a measure of success is an imperfect way of measuring progress or that the ease in which prosecutors can secure federal indictments impact these numbers. Nonetheless these efforts were praised by other law enforcement officials.

The report also included information on the implementation of the tribal provisions included in the most recent version of the Violence against Women Act.

“From the date the act took effect, March 7, 2013, through the end of fiscal year 2013, U.S. Attorneys with prosecutorial responsibilities in Indian Country have charged defendants with the amended provisions of the federal assault statutes that strengthened penalties for domestic assault offenses, such as strangulation and stalking,” the DOJ said in a statement.

The report highlighted the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, the Umatilla Tribes of Oregon, and the Tulalip Tribes of Washington who will be implementing the tribal provisions of VAWA prior to the official March 7, 2015 implementation date for the law. The special pilot project was awarded to reservations where a strong court system was already in place and prepared to handle the tribal specific provisions.

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