The Unique Problems Facing Native American Youths in the Criminal Justice System

This report is part of Kids Imprisoned, a project produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 initiative, a national investigative reporting project by top college journalism students and recent graduates from across the country. It is headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

On a morning he should have been in middle school, 12-year-old Isaac Durham collapsed on the sidewalk after drinking a fifth of vodka stolen from a Circle K in Flagstaff, Arizona. After the paramedics pumped his stomach, he was charged with underaged consumption of alcohol and became a juvenile offender for the first time.

In the seven years that followed, Durham, a member of the Hopi Tribe, spent five years, on and off, in juvenile detention. Before he was locked up, he strategically bounced between the reservation and non-Indian land to avoid punishment—exploiting the divide between tribal and county jurisdictions.

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