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Guest Opinion. When the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed tribal jurisdiction over our reservations in eastern Oklahoma, Cherokee Nation was quick to push forward with a transformative vision for our criminal justice system. Now we are continuing to refine ideas and develop strategies that both respond effectively to crimes and prevent new crimes from happening.

Cherokee Nation has exclusive tribal jurisdiction across our 7,000-square-mile reservation. We are dedicated to building up our criminal justice system to become not just the best within our 14-county reservation, but the best in Oklahoma and across Indian Country. Cherokee people deserve a system that not only protects victims, but also fosters reform, redemption and hope for offenders who have paid their debt.

Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and I recently created a new task force to study criminal sentencing reform and ways to enhance Cherokee Nation’s re-entry program. It is also tasked with evaluating detention facility needs.

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The urgency of this critical work is reflected in the task force's swift deadline, which is set for February 1, 2024. By that date we plan to have a strategic plan to address sentencing reform and re-entry program enhancements.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Chad Harsha will chair the nine-member task force. Another key figure is Council of the Cherokee Nation Speaker Mike Shambaugh, a lifelong public servant who has served as police chief of his hometown. Councilor Daryl Legg also brings a wealth of experience and passion to the table from his years of coordinating the “Coming Home” program for Cherokee Nation. The task force will engage with internal and external experts and issue public reports to transparently communicate the progress and findings.

Since the McGirt decision, Cherokee Nation has experienced an astounding 380% increase of cases in our criminal justice system, with more than 10,000 felony or misdemeanor filings in Cherokee Nation District Court. We are working closely with state, local and federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors on a range of criminal case issues, including investigations, prosecutions, cross-deputization agreements and detention. In 2023, Cherokee Nation also made a total of over $13 million in grants available to every county and local first responder agency across our reservation.

We recognize the responsibility that comes with tribal sovereignty, and we are committed to bringing a thoughtful approach to justice. We believe that sentencing should not only be disciplinary, but also rehabilitative. Our existing re-entry program, operational since 2014, exemplifies our commitment to supporting citizens as they navigate reintegrating back into society. This initiative addresses critical life areas, such as housing, health care and employment, to give ex-offenders the support they need to not repeat past mistakes.

The criminal justice reform task force underscores our obligation to a public safety response that is prompt, effective and forward-looking. It will help guide us on future legislation, policy and budget solutions.

We know that Cherokee Nation stands as a statewide and nationwide beacon of hope and excellence. Today, we are leading the way to ensure justice is both strong and compassionate, and finding a pathway for crime prevention, redemption and rehabilitation.

Chuck Hoskin Jr. is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

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