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Model Programs Guide Literature Review: Tribal Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2016
10 pages

This overview of issues distinctive to Tribal youth (American Indian and Alaska Native) addresses jurisdictional issues, their over-representation in the justice system, distinctive risk and protective factors related to delinquency, and the findings and limitations of evaluations of programs and policies that target Tribal youths.


American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) individuals are generally defined as "people who identify as having some degree of Tribal heritage and are recognized as members of these groups either by a Tribe or the U.S. Government." The U.S. Government recognizes 566 AI/AN tribes, most of which have their own distinct language and culture. Approximately half of AI/AN populations live on Federal or State reservations or Tribal lands. "Indian country" is defined as "all Indian lands and communities within the borders of the United States." These Tribal areas can fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal, State, or Tribal justice systems. Jurisdiction depends on the crime location, crime type, perpetrator status, and victim status. These jurisdictional factors are discussed in this paper. Research suggests that Tribal youths are more likely than their white peers to be arrested, adjudicated, and incarcerated in juvenile justice systems across the United States. Across 11 relevant studies on racial disparities in the juvenile justice system, the negative impact of race was found in over half of the case outcomes. Distinctive risk factors for delinquency among Tribal youth are historical trauma, exposure to violence, suicide, substance use, and lack of culturally-based instruction. Protective factors are related to family and cultural identity. Few evidence-based programs focus on Tribal youths and the distinctive problems they face; however, this paper provides some examples of evidence-based programs that address AI/AN risk factors, such as suicide and substance use. 33 references and recommendations from the Attorney General's Advisory Committee on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence

Date Published: April 1, 2016