The Need: An Overview

Like other communities nationwide, residents of rural Alaska communities, the majority of whom are Alaska Native, grapple with high rates of alcohol abuse, juvenile suicide, child abuse and neglect, and family violence and sexual assault. Unlike other communities, the residents of many of these communities struggle to maintain order in their communities without the presence of law enforcement physically located in their communities. The enormous geographic size of Alaska, remoteness of many rural communities, skyrocketing costs of transportation, and inability to deliver essential governmental services greatly complicate – and exacerbate - the difficulties inherent in resolving these challenges, continuing to impede communities' efforts to eliminate these grave social conditions.

The social consequences of these challenges are well known. While Alaska Natives represent only nineteen percent of the total population of the state, they are twice as likely to be represented in the state's juvenile justice and adult correctional system, and more than three times as likely to be represented in the state's child protection system. Moreover, multitudes of studies have demonstrated the relationship between unemployment, poverty, disenfranchisement and other deprivations suffered under poor economic conditions and/or alcohol abuse/addiction, substance abuse, family violence and child abuse and neglect.

Despite numerous efforts made by so many over the decades, Alaskans are far from eliminating the barriers that prevent many rural Alaskans from contributing as full participants in their communities. Tribal, state and federal leaders from both the private and public sectors continue to address these issues, and to enhance the availability of law enforcement and access to the justice system in remote Alaska communities as a means of aiding rural communities in addressing these destructive social conditions. Congress created the Alaska Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission to study and make recommendations regarding how best to resolve several issues that continue to plague rural communities.