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Indian country cannot become the Wild West of the Great Plains,” Johnson said.

WASHINGTON (AP) – A bipartisan group of senators is hoping to fight high crime levels on American Indian reservations with legislation that would boost tribal law enforcement and improve coordination between federal and local authorities.

The bill, introduced Wednesday after months of consultation and hearings held by the senators, would encourage more aggressive federal prosecution of reservation crimes, enhance the sentencing authority of tribal courts and boost resources for investigating and prosecuting crimes of sexual violence.

“We are seeing crime levels on some Indian reservations reach epidemic proportions,” said North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and the lead sponsor on the bill. “It is difficult to overstate the problems.”

He said that a 2007 report by the advocacy group Amnesty International was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

That report said American Indian women are more than twice as likely to be raped as other U.S. women. Suspects often go free because of unclear police jurisdictions and lack of adequate forensic capabilities on reservations, the report found.

According to the Indian Affairs panel, The United States declined to prosecute 62 percent of Indian country criminal cases referred to federal prosecutors between 2004 and 2007. Federal statistics have shown that American Indians are the victims of violent crime at 2.5 times the national rate, and rates of homicide and domestic are much higher than national averages.

Federal Bureau of Investigation reports showed that rates of all of those crimes doubled between 2005 and 2006, partly fueled by a raging methamphetamine epidemic on reservations and high rates of alcohol use.

The legislation introduced Wednesday would also attempt to increase accountability for law enforcement, requiring the Department of Justice to file reports to tribal justice officials that provide details about the cases the federal government declines to prosecute.

Amnesty International praised the bill.

“This legislation is a historic effort to tackle major jurisdictional challenges that allow crimes against Native American and Alaska Native peoples to flourish,” said Larry Cox, executive director of the group.

Twelve members have co-sponsored the bill with Dorgan, including Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Pete Domenici, R-N.M.; Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.; Gordon Smith, R-Ore.; Tim Johnson, D-S.D.; Joe Biden, D-Del.; Max Baucus, D-Mont.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.

“Indian country cannot become the Wild West of the Great Plains,” Johnson said.

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