Washington tribe sees promise in new longer prison sentences

The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 was designed to provide more effective crime control on Indian reservations across the country The new federal law allows tribal judges to hand down longer sentences, and assures help from federal prosecutors for more serious crimes committed on American Indian reservations.

The changes will not be sweeping, said Colville Tribal Police Chief Matt Haney. But he says they do give tribal police more hope that major crimes will not go unpunished.

Colville Tribal Chairman Michael Finley and Councilman Brian Nissan both testified for the bill and told of growing problems of gangs and drugs on their reservation, and the critical need to address growing violence on the reservation.

“It’s time to take back our communities from gangs and their criminal activities. The new law will be another weapon for tribes in this fight,” Nissen said.

Finley said the law will help tribes collaborate with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. It also increases from one year to three years the penalties that can be imposed in Tribal courts. Before the new law, tribal judges could only sentence someone to a maximum of one year for each charge.

The law still does not allow tribal courts to charge non-Indians when they committed crimes on Indian reservations.

Haney said he’s particularly pleased about a provision mandating U.S. Attorneys to assign a special assistant U.S. Attorney to prosecute reservation crimes in federal courts.

In the past, the U.S. Attorney’s Office have been accused of declining to prosecute many of the major crimes that have occurred on reservations.

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