Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative® (JDAI) sites across the country must reevaluate their assumptions and processes to safely reduce detention of Native American youth says a new report by the Association on American Indian Affairs.
Released in conjunction with Native American Heritage Month, the report reviews how JDAI sites currently identify and respond to Native American youth, highlighting both areas in need of improvement and promising efforts.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation funded report — Examining How JDAI Sites Interact with Native Youth and Tribes — is based on a 2016 survey and interviews conducted by the Association on American Indian Affairs. Sites were asked to identify Native American youth and whether or not they had collaborated with tribal governments and tribal juvenile justice staff to provide culturally appropriate alternatives to detention.
This research revealed two key areas of concern:
- A lack of reliable processes for identifying and collecting data on Native American youth; and
- A lack of outreach to tribes to:
- collect information on a youth’s status as a citizen or member of a tribe;
- provide notice to the tribe of a young person’s offenses; and
- determine whether there are culturally appropriate services available.
The survey’s findings are consistent with data indicating that juvenile justice systems across the country are failing Native American youth. These youth are detained at disproportionately higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group. They also have the highest rate of detainment for status offenses, drug offenses and technical violations of probation and face a high risk of substance abuse and suicide as well as suspension and expulsion from school.
Casey Foundation Senior Associate David E. Brown says the report’s findings serve as an important call to action for JDAI sites. “As we at the Foundation have increased our emphasis on race and equity, equity for Native youth in juvenile justice has been a blind spot for us and many of the juvenile justice systems with which we work. Now we know better, and leaders in the field are showing us how to do better.”
One such leader is Shannon Keller O’Loughlin, executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs and one of the report’s primary authors. While there are a few JDAI sites engaged in emerging best practices, O’Loughlin notes that most sites lack consistent and culturally appropriate protocols to collect robust data on Native American youth and to connect these youth with culturally appropriate alternatives to detention — two core tenets of JDAI.
To help JDAI sites address these concerns, the report offers concrete recommendations, including:
- Developing uniform and consistent protocols for identifying Native American youth by tribal affiliation;
- Establishing notification protocols for informing tribes when a Native American youth enters the juvenile justice system; and
- Educating staff on the unique issues facing Native American youth and the availability of culturally relevant alternatives to detention.
JDAI sites in Arizona, Montana, New Mexico and Washington are pursuing some of these recommendations. For example, Arizona’s Native American Youth Collaborative provides guidance on identifying Native American youth and connecting them with culturally appropriate services. New Mexico requires tribal notification in all juvenile justice proceedings where a youth may be detained — and it is the only state in the nation to do so. And in Snohomish County, Washington, court staff and community partners participate in cultural awareness training, which highlights the importance of providing appropriate services to Native American youth.
The practices being implemented at these sites, along with efforts already underway at two tribal JDAI locations — the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and the Pueblo of Isleta near Albuquerque, New Mexico — are starting points for JDAI sites across the country to scrutinize their work with Native American youth and to commit to doing better.
Read Examining How JDAI Sites Interact with Native Youth and Tribes