Bulletin Reports 

CIRCLE Project 

The Comprehensive Indian Resources for Community and Law Enforcement (CIRCLE) Project was a collaborative effort between several U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) agencies and three tribes—the Northern Cheyenne, the Oglala Sioux, and the Pueblo of Zuni—to improve criminal justice systems within these communities by reducing crime and increasing safety. The National Institute of Justice sponsored a 48-month participatory evaluation of the CIRCLE Project. All of the project stakeholders were deeply involved in the evaluation. Researchers worked closely with federal and tribal partners to learn how effective the CIRCLE Project was in improving tribal criminal justice systems and to what extent DOJ succeeded in helping the tribes.

Given the tribes’ diverse approaches toward the broad goals of reducing crime and improving safety, evaluators examined the accomplishments of each tribe individually and in significant detail. However, they did draw some general lessons from their specific findings.

First, addressing sustainability at the beginning helps tribes plan their changes according to projected long-term effects. In addition, tribal partners wanted the CIRCLE Project to support self-determination, including the freedom to shape tribal institutions and design changes tailored to the particular needs of their communities. Evaluators also recognized the great need in system reform for nation building and creating criminal justice processes that are culturally fitting. Finally, one of the most important lessons from the evaluation concerns the approach that agencies take to justice system enhancements in Indian Country. Local data gathering and an understanding of conditions specific to locale help to identify opportunities for action. While not all tribes are ready for system-level changes, this should not deter them from making targeted changes on a smaller scale. This more incremental course saves money, time, and effort and can lead to long-term success.

To read the full report (NCJ 221081), access the National Criminal Justice Reference Service’s website, http://www.ncjrs.gov.