Volume 98, Number 1

April 2023

The Gladue Approach: Addressing Indigenous Overincarceration Through Sentencing Reform

Nasrin Camilla Akbari

In the American criminal justice system, individuals from marginalized communities
routinely face longer terms and greater rates of incarceration compared to their
nonmarginalized counterparts. Because the literature on mass incarceration and
sentencing disparities has largely focused on the experiences of Black and Hispanic
individuals, far less attention has been paid to the overincarceration of Native peoples.
Yet there are clear indications that Native peoples are both overrepresented
within the criminal justice system and subject to unique sentencing disparities as
compared to other ethnicities. While these issues are partly motivated by traditional
drivers of criminal behavior, including access barriers to housing, employment, and
education, this Note argues that there is a greater systemic issue at play: the
enduring legacy of colonialism. Accounting for—and correcting—this legacy in the
criminal justice system is a complex task, though not an impossible one. For
example, over the past twenty years, the Canadian criminal justice system has
implemented a novel, remedial sentencing approach to address the overincarceration
of Aboriginal offenders: the
Gladue approach. Recognizing the extent to
which the Canadian legal system has failed to account for the unique needs, experiences,
and circumstances of Aboriginal offenders, the
Gladue approach mandates
an individualized and contextualized approach to sentencing, one which prioritizes
community-based alternatives to incarceration and emphasizes restorative justice.
This Note proposes two legal pathways by which to transplant the
approach to the American criminal justice system. In so doing, it offers the first
comprehensive analysis of the normative and constitutional implications of
applying the
Gladue approach to the sentencing of Native peoples within the
United States. While the approach has challenges and shortcomings, it is nevertheless
a powerful tool by which the American criminal justice system can begin to
reckon with its colonial past and present.