More than 30 tribal leaders, juvenile court judges, child advocates, juvenile justice system experts and community members from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community testified today in the second public hearing of the Advisory Committee of the Attorney General’s Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence. The hearing focused on how juvenile courts and other programs within tribal juvenile justice systems address the impact of children’s exposure to violence.
“Too many native children encounter violence in their homes and communities that can disrupt a path to living healthy adult lives, and we must do all that we can to protect these young people,” said Associate Attorney General Tony West. “By intervening early, we can help these children avoid a fate involving courts and the corrections system.”
During the hearing, experts explained how children entering tribal, state or federal justice systems are screened and treated for trauma from previous exposure to violence. They also discussed a variety of issues facing Native children in juvenile justice systems, including the availability of legal representation, tribal court transfer of juvenile cases to adult courts, culturally sensitive programs and services that divert youth from entering the juvenile justice system.
“The long-term impact of a child’s exposure to violence depends heavily on how law enforcement officials, prosecutors, defenders, judges, and corrections professionals handle that child’s case,” said Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs Karol V. Mason. “Through the work of the task force, we hope to find ways to make the justice system a force for positive change in a young person’s life.”
The Attorney General’s Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children exposed to violence is comprised of a federal working group that includes U.S. Attorneys and officials from the Departments of the Interior and Justice and an advisory committee of experts on American Indian studies, child health and trauma, victim services and child welfare and law.
The 13-member advisory committee is co-chaired by former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan and Iroquois composer and singer Joanne Shenandoah. The advisory committee will draw upon research and information gathered through public hearings to draft a final report of policy recommendations that it will present to Attorney General Eric Holder by late 2014.
Attorney General Holder created the task force in April 2013 as part of his Defending Childhood initiative to prevent and reduce children’s exposure to violence as victims and witnesses. The task force is also a component of the Justice Department’s ongoing collaboration with leaders in American Indian and Alaska Native communities to improve public safety.
The advisory committee held its first public hearing Dec. 9, 2013, in Bismarck, N.D. and will hold additional public hearings, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Anchorage, Alaska.
For more information about the advisory committee and public hearings, please visit www.justice.gov/defendingchildhood.
The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), headed by Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason, provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice and assist victims. OJP has six components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking. More information about OJP can be found at www.ojp.gov.