Addressing Disparities: Native Americans in the Justice System – Insights from Judge William Thorne

Native or Indigenous persons are overrepresented in justice system involvement. For example, Indigenous persons are disproportionately overrepresented at each stage of the system process, including arrest and incarceration, whether juvenile or adult. Despite progress in reducing the total number of incarcerated populations, the overrepresentation of Native and Indigenous persons in the system, particularly when compared to white persons, remains resilient.

To answer how disparities for Native persons can be addressed and other questions, WestEd’s Justice & Prevention Center asked William Thorne, retired Utah Court of Appeals Judge and a member of the Pomo/Coast Miwok Tribe, to respond.

In this blog, Judge William Thorne answers:

  • What impact did structural racism have on you as a Native/Indigenous person growing up?

  • What do you believe are the causes of the deep disparities by which Native persons are involved in the justice system at much higher rates than their proportion of the population?

  • What can policymakers and criminal justice professionals do, if anything, to mitigate these disparities?

  • Are there innovative strategies in the tribal justice system that the U.S. justice system needs to learn from?

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