FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — More than three-quarters of American Indian tribes that have the authority to develop sex-offender registries are well on their way to meeting the legal requirements meant to keep convicted criminals from hiding out on tribal lands, a new report shows.
Of the country’s 566 federally recognized tribes, 214 are eligible to implement the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act of 2006 or delegate that authority to a state. The rest of the tribes in Alaska, California, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon and Wisconsin are under state jurisdiction when it comes to law enforcement and are ineligible to develop the registration and notification systems.
The report released this week by the U.S. Government Accountability Office said that despite most eligible tribes being on board to track sex offenders within their borders, the tribes face a number of challenges in implementing the law. Those include accessing federal criminal justice databases, paying for startup costs and getting enough guidance from federal agencies.
It also says tribes are having trouble getting notified by states when convicted sex offenders move to tribal land or work or go to school on reservations after being released from prison.
Some states said they have no laws or policies that require tribes be notified. Determining whether an address is on tribal land isn’t always easy either, they told the Government Accountability Office.
The U.S. Department of Justice agreed with a recommendation to develop a way for states to keep tribes in the loop so that they can enforce laws pertaining to sex offenders. Some tribes restrict how close the offenders can live or work to schools or day care centers, or banish the offenders altogether.
Federal corrections officials ask inmates leaving prison if their new address is on tribal lands, and those officials can notify tribes, the report said.
The accountability office also said the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs could do a better job at finding out which tribes need help implementing the law. The Interior Department said the Bureau of Indian Affairs would be reaching out to tribes.
A Tribal Public Safety Working Group established earlier this year is identifying which tribes have trouble accessing federal databases and finding ways to cover associated costs long-term.
The 164 tribes that chose to implement the law must create registries that include offender descriptions, photographs, fingerprints, criminal history and DNA samples, as well as notify the community and create a website to make offender information available to the public.
According to the Justice Department, 43 percent of those tribes substantially have implemented the law and 43 percent have submitted an implementation package that hasn’t been approved.
Justice officials said they have granted more time to the 22 eligible tribes that have not submitted the package. One tribe has not substantially implemented the law, the Justice Department said.
“We are reviewing the final GAO report and look forward to working with states to identify ways to improve their notification systems and communications with tribal governments,” Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said in a statement Thursday.