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March 31, 2016

Native American Girls Face Highest Incarceration Rates

A recent publication by The Pew Charitable Trusts sheds light on the underrepresented disparities facing American Indian women across the United States. American Indians and Alaskan Natives make up just 2 percent of the US population, yet these communities face disproportionate levels of poverty, violence, and school dropouts.

Here are some quick statistics from the article:

  • In 2013, 29 percent of American Indians were poor, the highest rate of any ethnic group.
  • At 15 percent, American Indians also have the highest dropout rates in the country.
  • Violent crime rates in this population is also twice has high as that of the whole country, including alcohol addiction, child abuse, and domestic violence, and American Indian women face the highest rates of rape in the nation.

Combined, these troubling disparities have created a climate of increased stress and juvenile delinquency in Native American populations. Overall, the number of juvenile offender males is greater, but the disparity between numbers of juvenile offender females in native and white populations is much more significant. According to Pew, Native American girls have the highest rates of incarceration of any ethnic group, and they are almost five times more likely to be confined to juvenile detention. At every level, native girls are more likely than white girls to be referred to juvenile court, detained, and adjudicated, and many face harsher offenses for similar crimes.

Why are Native American girls at such a high risk? High dropout rates mean they likely have less education, they have high rates of poverty, many have children at a young age and face a complicated and bureaucratic foster care system, and there is a much greater chance girls have been sexually assaulted during their lifetime. It is never one system alone, but rather the intersection of these systems, that puts native girls at such high risk, and most lack access to aid and social service programs that are tailored to their culture and specific experience.  We need to be able to provide these girls with a sense of community and safety, quality case management, and appropriate mental health services to the survivors of sexual assault. Native girls are often lost in a system that does not support them; many end up in the state system separate from their tribe or are tried as adults in the federal system. In states like Wisconsin, where teenagers as young as 17 can be tried as adults, it is important that we raise this age to 18, so that juveniles can be provided the treatment and support they need.

By Lizzy Schounard