Surrounded by alcohol and abuse, Indian youths in need of support feel the isolation of incarceration.
By Sari Horwitz
PINE RIDGE INDIAN RESERVATION, S.D. — She sits alone in a cinder-block cell, an Oglala Lakota teenager with a long braid and tattoos. For five months she has been locked up on this remote prairie reservation for drinking and disorderly conduct.
When she behaves, she can watch television. Mostly, though, she passes the time with two books — a Bible and “The Hunger Games” — and her journal, in which she records the monotony of her long days. The journal, with an eagle on the cover, also holds the names of nearly a dozen friends and relatives who have died — some from drugs, violence or suicide.
“It’s so boring in here,” the 17-year-old says before coming to a realization that would have startled her just a short while ago: “I miss school more than anything.”
For the teenager, whose name is not used because she is a juvenile, and nine other Native Americans at a facility for minors here, there is no schooling, no vocational opportunity and no counseling. There is simply detention.
Their situation is emblematic of a juvenile justice system that is fundamentally broken when it comes to Native American youths. Around the country, juveniles on reservations are left to languish in cash-strapped facilities that cannot afford to provide the kind of rehabilitative services afforded to most young offenders in the United States. Because some reservations have no juvenile detention centers, offenders often are shipped to facilities far from their homes, compounding the isolation of incarceration.
A jurisdictional legal maze in Indian country further complicates matters. Indian reservations are sovereign nations. So when juveniles commit minor crimes, their cases are usually handled by the tribes. But when they commit a serious felony, their cases are generally handled by federal prosecutors, and they can be sent to either federal prison or a federal facility.
In the federal system, there is no juvenile division, and no court judges, rehabilitation facilities or probation system for juveniles. From 1999 through 2008, as many as 60 percent of juveniles in federal custody were American Indians, according to a commission that last year recommended that tribes be given full jurisdiction over Indian children and be released from “dysfunctional federal and state controls.”
Advocates say Native American youths have essentially been forgotten.
“There is no systemic program to educate kids or provide services for them in detention centers,” said Troy Eid, the chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission and a former U.S. attorney from Colorado. “They don’t have computer instruction. They don’t have classrooms. They have nothing, and their services are lacking because Congress hasn’t appropriated the funding. They just sit in a cell all day.”
Pine Ridge’s attorney general, Tatewin Means, the daughter of the late American Indian Movement leader Russell Means, works out of a run-down building with a broken toilet and no heat or air conditioning.
Means said there is no funding for behavioral health services for children who have been sexually or physically abused. And when, as teenagers, some get caught up in the juvenile justice system, the tribe has few resources to help them.
“For the last two years, we have applied for federal grants for public safety and child protection and were absolutely shut out,” she said.
Continue story here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2014/11/28/from-broken-homes-to-a-broken-system/?hpid=z1
Via Washington Post