WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), praised Committee member Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) for chairing an oversight field hearing on “Strengthening Alaska Native Families: Examining Recidivism, Reentry, and Tribal Courts in Alaska.”
“As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, my goal has been to hear from Indian Country directly. I want to personally thank Senator Murkowski for recommending and chairing this important field hearing on Alaska Native Families,” said Chairman Barrasso. “The field hearing is a great opportunity to hear from Alaska Natives on how to best strengthen families in their communities and specifically the issues of recidivism and reentry. We’ll continue to focus on this important topic because healthy families are the backbone of healthy communities, in Alaska and across Indian Country.”
Senator Murkowski chaired the hearing in Anchorage, Alaska at the Alaska Native Heritage Center on Thursday, August 20, 2015. In her prepared opening remarks Senator Murkowski said “Alaska faces significant challenges related to crime, justice, and recidivism. Recidivism remains one of the most challenging issues facing the justice system in Alaska. Whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony offender, our recidivism rates are some of the highest in the nation, especially for younger Alaska Native males. A constant echo I hear when traveling throughout the state is we need to be doing more for young people who are being released from prison back into their communities. We must do all we can to ensure that when a young man or woman is released from prison, they have the tools and resources needed to succeed.”
The hearing also examined how tribal courts might provide a viable alternative to the current system. Sen. Murkowski remarked that the justice system is “failing people” and “not what it should be.” She stressed that the tribal, state, and Federal governments must work collaboratively to find solutions and ensure “there is justice and a path of hope,” Senator Murkowski said.
The hearing featured testimony from the Honorable John Coghill, Alaska State Senator; Ms. Natasha Singh, the General Counsel & Tribal Court Judge for the Tanana Chiefs Conference; Mr. Greg Razo, the Vice President for Government Contracting for the Cook Inlet Region, Incorporated; Mr. Jeff Jessee, the Chief Operating Officer at the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority; and Ms. Denise Morris, the President and CEO of the Alaska Native Justice Center.
Mr. Gregory Razo stated in his written testimony that “Alaska Natives have used Federal statutory authority to increase their self-determination, improve the provision of health and wellness services and begun to address the social needs of our people. Reentry and recidivism programs, justice programs and Tribal courts require sustainable funding and they work best when compacted or contracted for by government to allow self-determination by the Alaska Native people. Community-based justice in Alaska can succeed,” said Razo.
In her testimony, Ms. Natasha Singh said “The tribal court model has proven to heal and strengthen families. This model has sustained on very little funding or confirmed authority. Federal legislation to confirm tribal court authority of domestic violence and substance abuse matters would go a long way to see that individuals and families heal.”
Click here for more information on all of the witnesses’ testimony.