The CIRCLE Evaluation: How Can Federal Funds Best Assist Tribal Nations?

As small, domestic dependent nations, many American Indian tribes face pressing crime and social problems but have limited resources with which to address them.

In 1998, several agencies in the U.S. Department of Justice partnered with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe and Pueblo of Zuni to strengthen the tribes' criminal justice systems. The initiative, called the Comprehensive Indian Resources for Community and Law Enforcement (CIRCLE) Project, provided funding and federal support to help tribes consider how they might better address crime and public safety problems.

The goal of the CIRCLE Project was to reduce crime and improve safety in Native American communities by strengthening tribal criminal justice systems. It worked to change how individual components of the tribes' justice systems (police, prosecution, courts, detention, etc.) operated, related to one another and worked with nonjustice agencies. This comprehensive and transformative approach contrasts with targeted reform, which focuses on a single problem or a narrow set of problems.

Evaluating the CIRCLE Project

In late 2000, the National Institute of Justice funded a 48-month participatory evaluation of the CIRCLE Project. The evaluation was participatory in that federal and tribal partners collaborated with external evaluators to identify the evaluation's goals and design, collect data and assess whether the CIRCLE Project enhanced Native American nations' criminal justice systems. It also assessed the federal partners' efforts to provide assistance to the tribes. The evaluation had two parts:

  • An 18-month process evaluation of CIRCLE's design and implementation. It considered how the federal government planned, funded and coordinated funding for the project. It also considered tribes' plans for and use of the money.
  • A 30-month evaluation of each Native American nation's accomplishments and the overall project outcomes.

The 18-month evaluation report describes each of the four participating governments' goals and challenges and uncovers lessons learned (the four governments are the three tribal governments and the U.S. federal government). Read the full report.

The 30-month evaluation report describes the tribes' accomplishments, suggests ways to build on work begun during the CIRCLE Project, and emphasizes the use of smaller scale (as opposed to systemwide) change. Read the full report.

Date Modified: January 20, 2010