Young Alaskan offenders face island exile: US court lets tribe set punishment

LET the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, huff and puff about the importance of being tough on young criminals. He's still as soft as the driven snow compared with the Tlingit Indians of Alaska. Their solution? Banishment to a remote island.

Tribal elders in a fishing village in south-east Alaska are to decide this week whether to dispatch two 17-year-old boys to separate uninhabited islands for a year, equipped only with a limited amount of food and tools, as punishment for a violent robbery.

In the first case of its kind in the United States, the youths, both Tlingits, have been handed over to their tribe by an American judge who was reluctant to jail them under mandatory sentencing laws.

The two, Simon Roberts and Adrian Guthrie, have admitted stealing dollars 40 ( pounds 25) from a pizza deliveryman and hitting him over the head with a baseball bat, during a visit to the north-western state of Washington last year. Roberts (who wielded the bat) faces up to five-and-a-half years in jail, while Guthrie could be sentenced to a maximum of 41 months. Instead, James Allendoerfer, a Superior Court judge in Washington's Snohomish County, agreed to allow them to return to their remote home village of Klawock, on Prince of Wales Island, where a council of elders, dressed in tribal regalia, will convene to decide their fate on Thursday.

Last week the pair were released from county jail into the custody of two Tlingit security guards who had come to escort them on the 800-mile journey back to their fishing community.

Before releasing them, Judge Allendoerfer conducted an investigation into the conditions the boys would face during their island sojourn, and the degree to which they would be monitored. They have been ordered to return to his court for sentencing in 18 months, when they may escape jail terms if he feels their banishment has done them any good. State law allows the judge to set aside mandatory penalties under 'special circumstances' - although, in this case, this is bitterly disputed by prosecutors.

Bill Jaquette, Guthrie's state-funded lawyer, believes the tribe does not have many choices other than to banish the boys. 'Most of the other traditional punishments are pretty radical, like chopping off limbs, and staking people to the beach at low tide. Of course, there is the option of shunning them . . . But their crime is too serious for that.'

Details of their endurance test have yet to be finalised, but the boys are expected to receive some survival training. They will have a limited number of tools - 'bows, arrows, knives, but no guns,' said Jaquette - and enough food to last two weeks. Their likely destination will be one of the thousands of small, heavily forested islands of south-east Alaska, populated by bear and deer.

After their supplies are exhausted, they will have to fend for themselves, fishing, hunting and clam-digging. Although the climate is mild compared with Alaska's Arctic reaches, the winters are snowy and punctuated by fierce storms. And there are up to 200 inches of rain a year in some areas.

The judge's decision followed intense lobbying by an Indian tribal judge, Rudy James, who is a member of a different tribe - the Kuy'di Kuiu Kwaan Tlingits - but who has taken up the case.

He has said banishment is mandatory under Indian traditional law for an offence of such severity, and would compel the boys to atone for their crimes and cleanse their spirits. The boys would be visited at regular intervals. 'We won't let them die,' he said.

Meanwhile, the tribe is planning to compensate the deliveryman, who suffered permanent vision and hearing damage, with a dollars 150,000 house and medical expenses. 'In our society no individual stands by themselves,' Mr James said. 'In glory, the whole tribe is with them. And also in shame.'

The boys have said they would be far happier to be banished to an island than locked up. They believe they have the necessary survival skills, having been brought up - like many of Alaska's 14,000 Tlingits (pronounced Kling-it) - in a fishing and logging village where most people know how to fish and hunt. 'We have been raised our whole lives living off the land, knowing what to eat and what not to eat,' Roberts said, 'I feel confident I can survive.'

But others are far less enthusiastic. In Washington, prosecutors have complained that the judge has set a dangerous precedent by treating defendants differently because of their ethnic origins. They plan to appeal. Moreover, they are concerned that the boys will simply flee, although the Tlingits have put up a dollars 25,000 bond.

Some Indians have challenged the tribal council's legitimacy, pointing out that it is not recognised by the US federal government. Alaska state officials have angrily observed that refusing minors shelter is illegal, although they have not announced any intention to intervene. And several anthropologists have said banishment was never practised among the Tlingit Indians because it would have been tantamount to a death penalty - a claim that Mr James vigorously contests.

In 1979, Frank Brown, a Bella Bella Kwakiutl Indian, was handed over to tribal elders after a court in Canada convicted him of robbery. After spending eight months on an island, Brown returned to go to college, and went on to become a much-admired canoe-maker.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower