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Report: Natives are incarcerated at a rate 38% higher than the national average

Indigenous people are incarcerated at a rate 38% higher than the national average, and are over-represented in the prison population of 19 states. They're also given harsher sentences than other racial groups, according to a new report.

In Montana, Indigenous people make up at least 20% of the state prison population, despite being 7% of the population in the state.

Those are some of the findings in a report published by the MacArthur Foundation. The report’s authors say long standing inequities in the criminal justice system, complex jurisdictional overlaps around reservations, and a lack of defense services all contribute to disproportionate incarceration of Indigenous people.

Clinical Psychologist Dr. Desiree Fox, who works for the Behavioral Health Department of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), is one of the study’s co-authors.

“What we were trying to communicate through this report is, this doesn’t work, we know it doesn’t work, and what can we do to be a little more effective within the crises we're seeing within our communities," Fox says.

The report highlights the Tribal Defender’s Office for the CSKT and their approach of holistic defense. That’s a practice that goes beyond the details of a client’s criminal case, connecting them to services like mental health treatment, addiction recovery, and housing assistance.

John joined the Montana Public Radio team in August 2022. Born and raised in Helena, he graduated from the University of Montana’s School of Media Arts and created the Montana history podcast Land Grab. John can be contacted at
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