Box 3-1

Bureau of Justice Statistics Collections on Tribal Justice

Tribal justice agencies are included in several of BJS’s principal data series such as the Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies (Hickman, 2003). However, on tribal lands, “criminal jurisdiction … is divided among the Federal, State, and tribal governments” depending on the “nature of the offense, whether the offender or victim was a tribal member, and the State in which the crime occurred” (Perry, 2005:1). In recent years, BJS has developed one-shot and continuing collections on the justice authorities that operate in American Indian tribal lands. BJS typically has worked with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs on developing address and contact lists; the U.S. Department of Justice also maintains an Office of Tribal Justice that facilitates interactions between the Justice Department and the tribes, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shares law enforcement authority on tribal lands.


Conducted on a one-shot basis to date, in 2002, the Census of Tribal Justice Agencies (Perry, 2005) was the U.S. Department of Justice’s first comprehensive effort to document tribal justice agencies as systems in their own right. The major difference between this collection and BJS’s standard series is that it sought to articulate the use of “indigenous forum” arrangements (e.g., councils of elders or “sentencing circles”) that are distinct from court proceedings, and that may combine adjudication and law enforcement functions on reservation lands. For those tribes that have developed specific law enforcement agencies, the census sought staffing and policy information (including the level of interface and cross-deputization with nontribal authorities). Questions on the census were also intended to provide information on tribes’ criminal history record-keeping and ability to provide crime reports to federal efforts such as the FBI’s National Crime Information Center and National Sex Offender Registry. The census achieved participation from 314 of 341 federally recognized tribes; however, “participation by Alaska Native tribes or villages was not extensive enough to enable their inclusion” in the results of the census (Perry, 2005:iii). BJS contracted with Falmouth Institute and Policy Studies, Inc., as the data collection agent for the census.


In 1998, BJS began specifically collecting information on tribal jails as a component of the Annual Survey of Jails; the collection has since developed into a separate Survey of Jails in Indian Country that continues on an annual basis. This collection mirrors the content of the Survey of Inmates of Local Jails (Section 3–B.2) but concentrates on those facilities and detention centers operated by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs or by individual tribal authorities. The Survey of Jails in Indian Country also includes questions on facility programs and services, such as health care and counseling, but these questions typically are asked only in selected years. See, e.g., Minton (2006, 2008) for reports of survey results.


BJS’s National Criminal History Improvement Program of grants to assist local law enforcement agencies develop criminal history and other information databases has recently expanded to include a tribal justice–specific component. Perry (2007) summarizes work in the first few years of the program, 2004–2006. Dubbed the Tribal Criminal History Record Improvement Program, the program’s grant solicitation for 2008 puts particular priority on “enhancing automated identification systems, records of protective orders involving domestic violence and stalking, sex offender records, [and] DWI/DUI conviction information,” as well as developing tribal interfaces to federal background check data.


The experiences of American Indians living on and off reservation lands in the justice system have been analyzed by BJS staff using the National Crime Victimization Survey and other resources; see, e.g., Greenfeld and Smith (1999) and Perry (2004).



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