United States: Lack of Implementation of Tribal Women’s Safety Law

Recently released statistics highlight two problems with The Tribal Law and Order Act, passed last year. The Act granted tribal courts the ability to sentence criminal offenders to up to three years in prison rather than just one and authorized larger tribal police forces and assistance for investigations and prosecutions. But new commentary explains that, first, the act itself does not provide funding for the increased services it authorizes. And second, it does not address the issues raised due to tribal court jurisdiction extending only to Indian men for crimes committed on tribal land.  These complaints were taken to a special oversight hearing in front of the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in late September of 2011.

First, funding for the increases in tribal police forces as well as the technical assistance has been difficult to secure. While the Department of Justice championed the Tribal Law and Order Act, it only provided 60% of the requested crime prevention and intervention budget for 2011.  President Obama has stepped in, requesting a 50% increase in funding for the 2012 year.  Additionally, the 2011 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act might include money earmarked for Indian nations. 

A second problem with the Tribal Law and Order Act is that it does not address the inability of tribal courts to try non-Indian men. Amnesty International estimates that as much as 86% of the acts of violence against Indian women on tribal land are committed by non-Indian men Additionally, while an Indian woman may make a criminal complaint against a non-Indian man in federal court, those charges rarely result in trials.  The National Congress of American Indians states that of the alleged crimes on tribal land which may be prosecuted in federal courts, 50% are not taken to trial and 75% of alleged sex crimes committed against women and children on tribal land are not prosecuted.

Compiled from: Lieberman, Amy, Short Funds Crimp Tribal Women’s Safety Law, Women’s E-News (13 October 2011), andOversight Hearing on TOLA One Year Later: Have We Improved Public Safety and Justice Throughout Indian Country?Indian Law & Order Commission (Summer 2011).