November 14, 2008
EXPOSÉ AMERICA'S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS profiles a team from THE DENVER POST's award-winning series on the broken justice system on Indian reservations across the country.
Because of a centuries-old law, the Justice Department is responsible for investigating and prosecuting major crimes on most Native American reservations. But as THE DENVER POST reported, law enforcement in Indian country has become "dangerously dysfunctional." The POST depicted a place where terrible crimes are committed, investigations are bungled, and prosecutions rare. The result: Indian reservations — already some of the poorest and most crime-plagued communities in America — have become what one Navajo official calls "lawless lands." Watch the video.
Justice Department statistics show that the rate of violent crime per every 100,000 residents of Indian country is 492; for the United States as a whole, 330. As the POST AND EXPOSÉ show, higher crime rates don't lead to higher prosecution rates. N. Bruce Duthu, professor of Native American studies at Dartmouth, and author of AMERICAN INDIANS AND THE LAW, noted in THE NEW YORK TIMES: "The Department of Justice's own records show that in 2006, prosecutors filed only 606 criminal cases in all of Indian country. With more than 560 federally recognized tribes, that works out to a little more than one criminal prosecution for each tribe."
In order to achieve justice, survivors of sexual violence frequently have to navigate a maze of tribal, state and federal law. The US federal government has created a complex interrelation between these three jurisdictions that undermines equality before the law and often allows perpetrators to evade justice. In some cases this has created areas of effective lawlessness which encourages violence. Action by US Congress is required to eliminate the possibility that complex jurisdictional rules and legislation in practice may deny survivors of sexual violence access to justice.
Read THE DENVER POST series "Lawless Lands"