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Tribal Youth in the Federal Justice System, Final Report (Revised)

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2011
205 pages

This publication examines the Tribal Youth in the Federal Justice System project which explored issues surrounding the population of American Indian juveniles who are processed in the Federal justice system.


Using data from 1999-2008 collected and maintained by the Federal Justice Statistics Program, and interviews with Tribal and Federal officials, the study explored the prevalence, characteristics, and outcomes of these youth at each stage of the justice system. In addition, the study examined significant issues surrounding the processing of Tribal youth cases, including the reasons that these cases may be handled federally or Tribally. This study fills a gap in the literature by providing both statistical and contextual information about Tribal and non-Tribal juvenile cases in the Federal system. Although the data have many limitations, the study pointed to a number of findings, including the following: over the last 10 years, about half of all juveniles in the Federal system were Tribal youth; the number of juveniles in the Federal system - both Tribal and non-Tribal - decreased substantially over this period; most juvenile cases are concentrated in a small number of Federal judicial districts, and U.S. Attorneys decline a substantial portion of all juvenile matters referred for prosecution. Tribal and non-Tribal juvenile cases differ in significant ways: most Tribal youth cases involve violent offenses, while most non-Tribal cases involve public order and drug offenses; and Tribal youth are more likely to be adjudicated delinquent, while non-Tribal youth are more likely to be prosecuted as adults. Availability of rehabilitative resources and Tribal capacity to prosecute were also found to be important factors in the decision to pursue a Tribal youth case in the Federal system.

Date Published: May 1, 2011