The U.S. Sentencing Commission is considering concrete "methods to improve" policies that result in harsher punishments for Native Americans living on reservations.
The same commission raised the alarm about sentencing disparities more than a decade ago, but apparently little was done with the recommendations. In the past five years, the number of Native Americans in the federal prison system has jumped 27 percent, according to the Journal.
Back in 2002, the U.S. Sentencing Commission (an independent agency that's part of the judicial branch of government) found that Native Americans "receive longer sentences than their non-Native counterparts in state court," according to the advisory’s report published in 2003.
In the years since, even federal judges have publicly condemned the policies. A North Dakota federal judge in 2013 called these policies an “injustice under the law.”
Now the Commission seems to be taking the issue more seriously and has formed a formal group of advisors they’re calling the Tribal Issues Advisory Group to review sentencing guidelines.
The Commission formed a committee of nearly two dozen judges and law-enforcement officials to review current sentencing laws. Eleven of the committee’s 22 members are Native Americans including District Judge Diane Humetewa, a member of the Hopi tribe, who last year became the first American Indian woman to be confirmed as a federal judge.
There are 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States, according to Census data. About 22 percent of American Indians live on reservations or other tribal lands.
Ralph Erickson, chief federal district court judge for North Dakota will chair the review committee.
“I commend the Commission for creating a mechanism to develop insights and information that have the potential to improve the lives of our citizens in Indian Country,” Judge Erickson wrote in a statement issued by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in February.
“I look forward to working with the distinguished members of this Group and with the Commission to rationally address longstanding sentencing issues in Indian Country,” Judge Erickson went on to say.