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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas