What the Oglala Sioux Accomplished Under the CIRCLE Project

The Oglala Sioux Tribe used CIRCLE [1] funds to:

  • Improve the court system by hiring specialized advocacy, probation and administrative staff.
  • Increase the size of the tribal police force.
  • Enhance domestic violence and other victim assistance services.
  • Expand youth services at the Boys & Girls Club, runaway and homeless youth shelter and tribal youth program.

The Oglala Sioux community has unemployment rates of 85 to 90 percent. Crime and social problems on the tribe's Pine Ridge Reservation are severe. Tribal political turmoil is common. Ultimately, economic, social and political factors made it difficult for the CIRCLE partners to identify a means for lasting system change.

As a result, evaluators examined the challenges the tribe faced in reforming its criminal justice system. These included:

  • High police turnover.
  • Breakdowns in the progression of cases through the justice system.
    • Arrests often did not lead to investigation, and investigations often did not lead to prosecution. Disarray in the records hindered follow-up on crimes. Sometimes cases were not sent forward because an agency felt the receiving agency would not work on the case anyway.
    • Cases were dealt with inconsistently. For example, is public intoxication a crime under tribal law? If so, should the offender go to jail or be fined? If fined, should police or the court collect the fine? Law enforcement and court officials' inconsistent answers to these questions damaged the credibility of the tribe's justice system.
  • Weak administrative systems.
    • Limited documentation. Nonprofit organizations supervised probationers but had no written authorization to do so. Frequently, probation supervisors lacked documents that reported final court requirements in each case.
    • Disorganized court records. For the time period studied, 10 percent of case files could not be found and the resolution of 40 percent of cases was unknown. Officers could not access records of offenders' past convictions because cases were filed by date, not by name. Such problems decreased conviction rates and made it less likely that sentences would be enforced. They also created opportunities for system exploitation.
    • Inadequate law enforcement policies and procedures. Many Department of Public Safety policies and written procedures were out of date or missing key documents.

These findings suggested that the Oglala Sioux Tribe should focus on modest, targeted changes rather than trying to reform the entire justice system. The evaluation team suggested several approaches:

  • The tribal court could make simple improvements in record-keeping to address administrative problems. Identifying repeat offenders could be a priority in this work.
  • Tribal criminal justice leaders could work together to map out consistent policies and procedures for certain offenses (like public intoxication) and begin interagency collaboration around these changes.
  • The tribe could assess the reasons for police turnover and take steps to solve the problem. One approach is to make police more accountable to local communities on the reservation.

For more information, see page 28 of the final report (pdf, 81 pages).


[note 1] The CIRCLE Project — the Comprehensive Indian Resources for Community and Law Enforcement Project — was a partnership of several agencies in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe and Pueblo of Zuni to strengthen the tribes' criminal justice systems. As part of the initiative, the National Institute of Justice and its DOJ partners funded an evaluation of the CIRCLE Project.

Funds came from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Corrections Program Office, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office for Victims of Crime, Office on Violence Against Women, and Office of the Comptroller. Some of this money would have been invested in Indian Country anyway; however, the native nations participating in CIRCLE received between 40 percent and 400 percent more from participating DOJ agencies than comparable tribes. Learn more about the CIRCLE Project and its evaluation.

Date Modified: January 20, 2010