Often Dumped into the Category of "Others," There is Little Information on Native Americans in the Criminal Punishment System
Date:  04-23-2020

What is known is that Native Americans are disproportionally represented in jails and prison populations
From Prison Policy Initiative: The scarcity of data on Native Americans in the U.S. criminal justice system comes up a lot in our conversations with activists and reporters, who rightly wonder why Native populations are often excluded from comparisons with other racial and ethnic groups. While Census data reveals that Native populations are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, other information that could shed more light on the issue is sparse. So, we compiled the information that does exist — which is fractured and hard to locate — in one place below.

Preface: What the Census data says

We’ve previously used data from the 2010 Census to analyze incarcerated populations by race/ethnicity and sex for each state. In our analysis, data on prisons and jails were combined. We found that, in 2010, there were a total of 37,854 American Indian/Alaskan Natives in adult correctional facilities, including 32,524 men and 5,132 women (and 198 who were 17 or younger). That is equivalent to a total incarceration rate of 1,291 per 100,000 people, more than double that of white Americans (510 per 100,000). In states with large Native populations, such as North Dakota, American Indian/Alaskan Native incarceration rates can be up to 7 times that of whites. Once the 2020 Census data is released, we will update our analysis, since it is 10 years old now.

Other data on Native Americans in the criminal justice system

Prisons: In 2016, 19,790 Native men and 2,954 Native women (22,744 total) were incarcerated in U.S. state and federal prisons, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) National Prisoner Statistics (NPS) series. The NPS series reports the population of state and federal prisons – but not local jails – by race/ethnicity and sex, but the most recent data available with that level of detail is from 2016. However, other sources supplement these findings:

  • BJS reports an increase to 23,701, in Prisoners in 2017. Oklahoma tops the list as the state with the highest number of American Indian/Alaskan Natives incarcerated, followed by Arizona, Alaska, and California. However, this data is not broken down further by sex and race.

  • Limited state-level data is also available from some state Departments of Corrections, like Alaska’s, which identifies Alaskan Native populations in its annual Offender Profile. However, many other states, even those with large Native populations like California and Texas, group these populations into an “other” category when reporting demographics. Continue reading >>>