Adam Walsh Act

The federal government failed to consult with tribes prior to enactment of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (AWA), and as a result, tribes continue to struggle with the implications of this law.

NCAI is committed to advocating for amendments to the AWA that would protect tribal sovereignty, improve public safety, and ensure effective implementation of sex-offender registries in tribal jurisdictions.

The provisions addressing tribes in the AWA were included without any input from tribes, which represents a dramatic departure from the way other criminal justice matters are handled on tribal lands. The proactive approach that the Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART) Office has taken to address implementation of the AWA in Indian Country is commendable, but if the Act is to achieve its stated purpose of creating a seamless national sex offender tracking system, then outstanding tribal concerns must be addressed.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act was signed into law on July 27, 2006. Title I of this act, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act 42 U.S.C. 16901 et. seq (SORNA), permitted federally recognized Indian tribes to “opt in” and implement the minimum standards required by SORNA for sex offender registration and notification; however, it arbitrarily excluded from participation tribes that are subject to state jurisdiction under Public Law 83-280 (PL280). Pursuant to SORNA, if the U.S. Attorney General determines that a tribe has not substantially implemented the requirements of SORNA by the implementation deadline of July 27, 2011, and is not likely to become capable of doing so within a reasonable amount of time, the tribe’s SORNA responsibilities will be delegated to the state in which the tribe is located.

Tribes have several concerns with the way in which the AWA is written and has been implemented, including its unprecedented threat of delegation of tribal regulatory authority to the state, its lack of funding, and its exclusion of tribes in mandatory PL280 states. For the time being, though, Congress seems uninterested in amending the tribal provisions of the AWA. As such, the 190 SORNA tribal jurisdictions have been left with no choice but to comply with the current law. Some tribes, like the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, were among the first jurisdictions to achieve substantial implementation and have served as a model for several other tribes hoping to do the same. Other tribes are exploring creative approaches to SORNA implementation, including unprecedented partnerships with local and state officials. NCAI commends such efforts and will continue to work with implementing tribes, and the Congress, to find workable solutions to outstanding problems created for tribes by the AWA.