Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
National Congress of American Indians Annual Conference
October 5, 2006
Thank you, Jackie [Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians]. Good morning. It's a pleasure to be here in Sacramento and to join our nation's tribal leaders and members at this important conference.
I want to thank the National Congress of American Indians for having me here. President Garcia, Vice President Keel, and members of the Executive Committee, I appreciate your hospitality, and I thank you for the very able and honorable way you have represented the native people of our country.
I also want to acknowledge Jackie and the outstanding NCAI staff who have worked with us. As always, they have done a wonderful job coordinating events and workshops with OJP.
And I want to thank the many tribal leaders who are here today. I respect and honor your service on behalf of your people.
I'd also like to welcome the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, McGregor Scott. U.S. Attorney Scott is on the Native American Subcommittee of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee, and he chairs the U.S. Attorneys' Methamphetamine Working Group. U.S. Attorney Scott, we're glad you could join us.
The chief responsibility of the Office of Justice Programs is to provide communities the support they need to address the problems associated with crime. And I believe we have a special responsibility to tribal communities.
I take that responsibility seriously, because I know the challenges that tribal officials face in keeping their communities safe. OJP's Bureau of Justice Statistics tells us that the rate of violent victimization among American Indians and Alaska Natives is two-and-a-half times the national average.
To make matters worse - and you know this all too well - tribes often lack the necessary resources for fighting crime. OJP's National Institute of Justice supported a study that gave a profile of Indian law enforcement agencies. The study shows that a typical police department in Indian country serves a population of 10,000 people living in an area about the size of Delaware. Yet, on average, tribal communities are patrolled by no more than three officers. Without a doubt, tribes face significant challenges in ensuring public safety.
Soon after my appointment, I established a Justice Programs Council on Native American Affairs. The purpose of this council is to coordinate OJP's and the Justice Department's efforts on behalf of tribes.
Our goal is to find out how we can better serve tribal communities - how we can get information to you more quickly, how we can provide you with better training, and how we can make sure our funding resources respond to your needs.
I also brought over one of my colleagues from HHS, Gena Tyner-Dawson. Gena, would you stand up? Gena is a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, and she was my senior advisor for tribal affairs at HHS. With Gena as my advisor, and with the Justice Programs Council providing me guidance, the needs of tribes will continue get my full attention.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Mooretown Rancheria. I want to thank the tribal leaders and members who were there for hosting me and for sharing their time.
During my visit, I learned about a model inter-tribal task force that involves law enforcement at every level - tribal, federal, state, and local. It's the kind of thing that I'd like to see more of, and it's the kind of thing we at OJP are working to support.
I could talk at length about our work with tribes. But given the limits on my time, I want to devote my remarks to three topics - drugs, specifically the growing problem of methamphetamine, infrastructure, and services.
First, meth. Compared to broad subjects like infrastructure and services, meth seems like a pretty narrow topic. But, as I'm sure all of you will agree, it's a huge problem that deserves special attention.
I appreciated hearing from Secretary Kempthorne about his plans for an Indian country meth commission. I look forward to working with his department to address this important issue.
I know it's an issue NCAI and tribal leaders are focused on, too, and rightfully so. As Vice President Keel said during his testimony in April, the destruction caused by meth threatens to dwarf the problems we have seen with other substances such as alcohol.
To illustrate the magnitude of the problem, he offered this alarming statistic from right here in California: Of the thousands of cases handled by the California Indian Legal Services, almost every case in which a child has been taken from the home involves at least one parent who uses meth. In many cases, babies are born testing positive for meth. As a parent of two small children, I am deeply troubled by that statistic.
Because of complicated jurisdictional issues, the low ratio of law enforcement officers to residents, and the proximity of some Indian lands to international borders, tribal communities have been targeted by meth traffickers.
The Justice Department is part of an Administration-wide effort to curb meth use, and OJP is making a concerted effort to fight meth in Indian country. The Attorney General visited the Yakima reservation this spring to discuss meth with tribal, federal, and state law enforcement officials. He talked about the Department's ongoing efforts to combat the problem, and he announced a new meth training initiative for tribal law enforcement.
As I mentioned, a major concern of ours is the impact of meth on children. One of our important efforts is a new initiative funded by OJP's Office for Victims of Crime to develop a National Drug Endangered Children Resource Center.
The resource center will provide critical information to tribes, states, federal agencies, and local communities on how to help children hurt by drugs, including meth. We hope that the center will be an invaluable tool for communities as they strive to protect those who are the most vulnerable to meth abuse.
I also encourage you to visit MethResources.gov to find out about all the resources and training available from across the government and across the country to fight meth.
One of the keys to fighting drugs, and to public safety generally, is sound infrastructure. Our Bureau of Justice Statistics has looked at tribal infrastructure and the capacity of tribes to share information. We found that less than 10 percent of tribal criminal justice agencies are electronically linked within their jurisdictions. This makes it very difficult for tribal law enforcement to be an effective part of a national intelligence network.
Through the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, or Global, as we call it, tribal, federal, state, local, and international organizations have worked together to overcome the barriers to justice information sharing. Tribal representatives have been an important part of these efforts.
This spring in Albuquerque, we held a training conference for tribal officials to address information sharing in Indian country.
The conference discussed promising tribal information sharing initiatives. We talked about national standards on justice information sharing. And we worked toward strengthening tribal capacity to collect, manage, and analyze crime data.
These information sharing and data collection and management capabilities can be critical to you as tribal leaders. Because with data, we can justify the need for added resources to address public safety in Indian country.
The development of infrastructure to house and share criminal justice information is important for many reasons, but community safety is reason number one.
In July 2005, we launched the National Sex Offender Public Registry. The registry offers members of the public immediate and centralized access to information about sex offenders throughout the country, and it provides parents a critical tool for protecting their children from sexual predators.
Today, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of Guam are linked to the site. Our goal now is to help tribes link to the site.
Several tribes are already working to develop their own registries. Our objective is to link these and other tribes to the national site.
We understand the challenges that many tribes face in developing systems that are compatible outside their communities. We want to work with those tribes to overcome these obstacles.
Hand in hand with information sharing is my concern for available criminal justice data in Indian country.
Having up-to-date, reliable statistics on the nature of crime, victimization, and criminal and juvenile justice will help us to gain a better understanding of how to target our resources, and it will help tribes avail themselves of those resources.
I've made a pledge to ensure that tribes have equal access to OJP funding. That pledge includes helping to see that tribes can provide us the information that our grant solicitations call for.
Key to that ability is developing tribal capacity for maintaining criminal history records.
Through our Tribal Criminal History Record Improvement Program, or T-CHRIP as we call it, we're helping tribes to enhance the quality, completeness, and accessibility of criminal history information.
The program also helps to link tribes to federal and state records systems, which will allow quick access to criminal justice information outside their jurisdictions and make it easier to conduct effective background checks.
Over the last three years, we have awarded almost $2.8 million to tribes under T-CHRIP. And we will continue to consult with tribes to determine how we can maximize our resources for developing infrastructure. A member of the OJP staff, Steven Perry, talked about T-CHRIP and criminal history information in his session yesterday, but he is still around to answer any questions.
Enhancing infrastructure is central to our efforts under the AMBER Alert program. As you know, AMBER Alert is the emergency response system set up to find and quickly recover abducted children. In its ten years of existence, AMBER is responsible for recovering 300 children. More than 90 percent of those recoveries have occurred since President Bush called for national coordination four years ago.
As the National AMBER Alert Coordinator, I have been working with tribal representatives and a national working group to involve tribes more closely in our AMBER efforts. We have held several meetings to identify ways to improve coordination with tribes, and this summer we held a national AMBER Alert conference, where we devoted two days to discussing AMBER in Indian country.
Principally, AMBER relies on a strong communications infrastructure, and I want to help develop that infrastructure in tribal communities. I am pleased to announce today that I will be devoting up to $5 million to implement AMBER Alert plans in Indian country. These funds, in concert with the plans themselves, will bridge the gap between tribes and state and regional programs across the country.
The subject of protecting children gives me a nice transition into the last of my three topics - services.
Through OJP's Office for Victims of Crime and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, OJP has established a history of serving crime victims and youth.
Through the Tribal Victim Assistance Program and the Children's Justice Act Partnerships for Indian Communities Program, OVC has funded many tribes to enhance victim services. This year, we awarded some $3.5 million to support 30 additional tribal victim assistance programs and 12 programs aimed at improving the handling of child abuse cases in Indian country.
We've also expanded our outreach by opening funding to all federally recognized tribes, not just tribes governed by federal jurisdiction. Now, tribes in Public Law 280 states like California and Alaska with high populations of native people have access to OVC's funding support.
And we're helping to promote promising practices. This year, we awarded funding to eight tribes to help them tap faith-based organizations in counseling crime victims. Through this program, American Indian and Alaska Native victims now will be able to access traditional healing approaches.
Serving American Indian and Alaska Native youth is yet another critical part of our mission at OJP. Through the Tribal Youth Program, we've funded 177 tribes over six years to support youth development efforts and juvenile accountability.
The Tribal Youth Program is an important part of our outreach to tribes and tribal youth, and I think it's given tribes a lift in dealing with some very pressing issues.
For example, the program was a major element of our response to the shootings at Red Lake last year. In the aftermath of the tragedy, we helped identify resources to plan, implement, and sustain programs targeted at youth.
Only by committing ourselves to a sustained and strategic response to crime and violence in Indian country can tribes realize the dream of safe and peaceful communities. OJP is working hard to help tribes achieve that dream.
I've told you about a few of the many areas in which we are working with tribes. But I also know that many exciting things are happening in Indian country that we don't necessarily know about and that can benefit the nation as a whole. I want to extend to all of you here an invitation to share with us your successes and your thoughts on how we can better support you.
I wish you well in all that you do. I thank you for giving me your time. And I commend you for your commitment to justice and safety and to the welfare of the native people of this country.