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American Indian judicial reform bill discussed in Senate committee

[JURIST] The US Senate Indian Affairs Committee [official website] on Thursday held hearings [RM Video; hearing materials] on a bill designed to give Native American courts and law enforcement broader authority to combat violent and sex-related crimes. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and 12 co-sponsors introduced the Tribal Law and Order Act [press release] on Wednesday. If passed, the bill would give American Indian courts authority to impose stricter sentences, expand the courts' jurisdiction to cover more non-Indian suspects, and provide for additional law enforcement training and federal cooperation in addressing the crimes. In a prepared statement [PDF text] for the hearing, National American Indian Court Judges Association [association website] Vice President Roman Duran commented:

Tribal courts agonize over the very same issues state and federal courts confront in the criminal context, such as, assault and battery, predatory crimes, hate crimes, child sexual abuse, alcohol and substance abuse, gang violence, violence against women, and now methamphetamine along with the social ills that are left in its wake. These courts, however, while striving to address these complex issues with far fewer financial resources than their federal and state counterparts must also “strive to respond competently and creatively to federal and state pressures coming from the outside, and to cultural values and imperatives from within.” ... Judicial training that addresses the present imperatives posed by the public safety crisis in Indian Country, while also being culturally sensitive, is essential for tribal courts to be effective in deterring crime in their communities.
AP has more.

In April 2007, Amnesty International [advocacy website] issued a report [PDF text] saying that Native American women are at much higher risk of becoming victims of violent and sexual crimes than are women of other ethnicities. The report, updated earlier this year [PDF text], blamed lack of tribal judicial authority and weak law enforcement for the disparity. Amnesty praised [press release] the introduction of the Senate bill on Wednesday, and the group maintains an archive [advocacy website] dedicated to the issue.

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