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Jails in Indian Country

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In 1998, the Bureau of Justice Statistics began collecting detailed information on confinement facilities, detention centers, jails, and other facilities operated by tribal authorities or the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) through the Survey of Jails in Indian Country (SJIC). Information is gathered on inmate counts, movements, facility operations, and staff. In selected years (1998, 2004, 2007, and 2011), additional information is collected on facility programs and services, such as medical assessments and mental health screening procedures, inmate work assignments, counseling, and educational programs. In 2020 and 2021, additional information was collected to measure the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Indian country jails.

Terms & Definitions

Indian country

Statutory term that includes all lands within an Indian reservation, dependent Indian communities, and Indian trust allotments (18 U.S.C. § 1151). Courts interpret section 1151 to include all lands held in trust for tribes or their members. See United States v. Roberts, 185 F.3d 1125 (10th Cir. 1999). Prior to July 29, 2010, tribal authority to imprison American Indian or Alaska Native offenders had been limited by statute (25 U.S.C. § 1302) to 1 year, a $5,000 fine, or both per offense. On July 29, 2010, the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 was signed into law, expanding the sentencing authority of tribal courts. As a result, offenders may serve potentially longer sentences (up to 3 years per offense and up to 9 years per multioffense case) in correctional facilities in Indian country (P.L. 111–211, H.R. 725, 124 Stat. 2258).

Indian country jails

Indian country adult and juvenile detention centers, jails, and other correctional facilities operated by tribal authorities or the Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior.

Tribal jurisdiction

Tribal law enforcement agencies respond to both felony and misdemeanor crimes. For most of Indian country, the federal government provides felony law enforcement concerning crimes by or against American Indians and Alaska Natives. Certain areas of Indian country are under P.L. 83–280, as amended (commonly referred to as P.L. 280). P.L. 280 conferred jurisdiction over Indian country to certain states and suspended enforcement of the General Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. § 1152) and Major Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. § 1153) in these areas. Tribes retain concurrent jurisdiction to enforce laws in Indian country where P.L. 280 applies.