A newly released report by the MacArthur Foundation shows that Native Americans are incarcerated at a rate 38 percent higher than the national average. The report also found that Native Americans were overrepresented in the prison population in 19 states compared to any other race and ethnicity.
The report is based on data from several surveys and sources, including the Indian Law and Order Commission, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Authors examined the issue of Native American over-incarceration with a historical lens, citing federal oppression, codified efforts to eradicate Native culture, and poverty and substance abuse driven by generational trauma.
The 2020 Bureau of Justice Statistics report showed tribal jail incarceration rates have steadily increased by 60 percent since 2000. However, the most recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed a significant reduction of incarceration in tribal jails during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Forty-five percent of people incarcerated in tribal jails were being held pretrial, and pretrial detention has risen by at least 80 percent since 1999. The average length of stay doubled from 2002 to 2018. The most serious offense for 16 percent of people in tribal jails was public intoxication and 15 percent were held for drug-related or DUI charges. Native youth are more likely to face conviction as adults for drug-related crimes.
To decrease rates of arrest and incarceration of Native people, the authors recommend including empowering tribal justice systems that offer culturally relevant and restorative services and addressing the underlying systemic and societal issues that lead people into the criminal justice system.