Follow the link for the full text of the article, which I found posted to a great website on Lenape (Delaware Indian) culture and issues. The article was originally published as a chapter in the book "Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization and Human Rights" (Elizabeth Alexander, et al), a worthwhile text for any library on crime and punishment.
Incarceration of Native Americans and Private Prisons
By Frank Smith
There are currently slightly over two million inmates in local, state and federal jails and prisons. Of these, some 1.6 percent are Native Americans and Hawaiian Natives; in Federal institutions, Native Americans constitute 2 percent of the population, since the U.S. government is involved in criminal justice enforcement on reservations. Because approximately 6 percent of all U.S. inmates are held in private prisons, the total number of Native Americans in these for-profit prisons is comparatively rather small. For that reason, this article presents a picture of the conditions in which Native Americans are held given that limited experience.
In order to achieve an informed understanding of the current situation with regard to Native Americans in prison, it is necessary to place it within a larger historical and sociological context. While most residents of the US have the notion their country was founded on the principles of justice and freedom, closer examination reveals that perception is not accurate, particularly in the case of Native Americans.1
The more progressive of our founding fathers whom we remember so fondly as protectors of these ideals include Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. Paine consistently referred to Indians as "savages", and used them as a negative comparative stereotype. Jefferson considered his contemporary Indians to be hindrances to colonial progress. The US only granted Natives citizenship in 1924, five years after women and 59 years after Black males were allowed to vote.
African Americans have undoubtedly been pervasively discriminated against in US history--their dehumanization was even embodied in the Constitution. Schoolchildren learn of the more egregious Supreme Court-approved violations of the rights of Blacks such as the Dred Scott decision or Plessy v. Feurgeson,2 and that the Civil War was fought in part over slavery. They may have read the Emancipation Proclamation and even the Thirteenth to Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The sordid history in America of slave owning, in the north and south, of lynching, of Jim Crow, is discussed in most schools. The role of such historic figures as Frederick Douglas or Sojourner Truth is widely recognized. Martin Luther King Jr., is certainly better known than many mediocre presidents. Selma, Alabama, and Little Rock, Arkansas are familiar mileposts, as is Brown v. Board of Education. Students may even understand the meaning of racial profiling, of the immensedisparity between sentencing for crack cocaine, more prevalent in inner-city neighborhoods, and powdered cocaine, more favored by wealthier uburbanites.
They may possibly be aware that a Black adolescent has perhaps a 50 times greater chance of being placed in an adult penal institution than a white youth who has been charged with exactly the same crime,3 and that perhaps one of three young Black men has been subjected to some criminal sanction, such as probation, parole, jail or prison.
Yet how many Americans, young or old, fully understand that this same disenfranchisement; this same disproportionate treatment by the criminal justice system, has affected Native Americans since the Articles of Confederation were signed? How many realize that broken treaties have been the order of the day for over two hundred years? Do they know that the early settlement of this nation involved pushing indigenous peoples into ever smaller, less habitable reservations?
How many school children are taught the cruel facts behind the genocidal removal of the inhabitants of the post-Revolutionary Southeast? There is hardly a Native American tribe that does not have a history of broken treaties and persecution. What this long, troubled relationship between European Americans and Natives constitutes is deliberate disregard for and discrimination against Native culture. Theft of lands, exiles, dispossessions, and a prevailing condemnatory and paternalistic attitude provide the background for the problems of Native Americans in prisons, both public and private, today. It particularly pervades the conditions of confinement of Indians in private prisons...