WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Obama Administration and Congress continue to be pressured by the Navajo Nation Corrections Department and the Public Safety Committee (PSC) to provide funding for new jails and for increased funding for all tribal public safety programs.
Recently, the Navajo Nation filed five grant applications for new jails with the U.S. Department of Justice, according to Hope MacDonald Lonetree, PSC member.
The PSC has engaged in comprehensive lobbying and public relations to educate Congress and the Obama Administration about the public safety crisis on the Navajo Nation - all due to deteriorating jails and insufficient funding for all areas of law enforcement.
The committee, led by Rex Lee Jim (Rock Point), and former Chairwoman MacDonald Lonetree, have made numerous visits to Washington, D.C. for meetings with elected members of Congress, their leadership and with senior officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Department of Justice, the federal Office of Management and Budget, and executives from the U.S. President's Office.
This effort is a result of the lack of detention facilities on the Navajo Nation. Detention facilities have deteriorated so severely that prisoners can only be kept overnight in three of the six adult detention facilities. With only 59 jails beds for the entire Navajo population, many inmates serve only a portion of their sentences before being released.
On Feb. 17, the Navajo Nation was awarded $225 million from the economic stimulus package for the Correctional Facilities on Tribal Lands grant program after a consistent lobbying campaign by members of the PSC. The grant program, managed by the U.S. Justice Department, provides funding to help tribes construct and renovate correctional facilities on tribal lands used for the incarceration of offenders subject to tribal jurisdiction.
On May 4, the Navajo Corrections Department, in coordination with the PSC, submitted applications to the Department of Justice for five new jails for the Navajo Nation. The committee is now eagerly awaiting the announcement of the grant award winners, expected later this month.
Jim appreciated the acknowledgement from the federal government. "The Public Safety Committee is very pleased that both the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration have responded to our consistent message that tribal jails desperately need resources to protect our people from violent offenders,"
He added, "The funding for new jails in the Recovery Act serves as a signal to Indian Country, specifically the Navajo Nation, that this Congress and the Administration recognize the public safety crisis we have endured for far too long and finally plan to honor the government's trust responsibility and its treaty obligations."
On July 30, 2008, the work of the committee paid off as the U.S. Congress adopted the Kyl-Thune Amendment, which provided $1 billion in funding for law enforcement and $1 billion for water projects on reservations across the Nation. The emergency fund for Indian Country was approved during consideration of a $50 billion foreign assistance bill aimed at combating the spread of AIDS worldwide. At that time, U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) offered the amendment to ensure that while the U.S. seeks to help people in foreign countries, it must not neglect the great needs in Indian Country here at home.
The Kyl-Thune amendment authorized $750 million in public safety funding, including $370 million for detention facility construction, rehabilitation and placement through the Justice Department, $310 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Public Safety and Justice account, which funds tribal police and tribal courts. In addition, $30 million was authorized for investigations and prosecutions of crimes in Indian Country by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the U.S. Attorneys.
The PSC continues to lead the fight to provide appropriations for the Emergency Fund in FY 2010. They recently met with Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) and Congressman Ben Lujan (D-NM) to send a joint letter to the Appropriations Committee encouraging funding for the Emergency Plan. The PSC plans to continue working with Congressional members and with Sen. Kyl and other senators to ensure appropriations are provided for the Emergency Fund in FY 2010.
In addition, the PSC was also successful in securing a substantial increase in appropriations for the Bureau of Indian Affairs' public safety budget. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the FY 2010 Interior Appropriations Bill, which included $303 million for BIA public safety and justice programs.
"The burden on our police officers, prosecutors and judges has been significant without a facility to hold and incarcerate violent individuals," MacDonald Lonetree said. "New facilities will have an enormous impact in keeping families, communities and our Nation safe. Law and order will be restored and healing can finally begin."
Raymond Joe, member of the PSC stated, "Our Congressional members have recognized the lack of jails that have undermined public safety on the Navajo Nation that put our people at risk. We look forward to continuing our work with our congressional leaders as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Department of Justice to put shovels in the ground and begin building the much-needed detention facilities on the Navajo Nation."
Delores Greyeyes, director for the Navajo Corrections Department, said, "We are so grateful for the leadership of our elected officials, especially those members of Congress that represent the Navajo Nation. It is very satisfying to know we were heard and that the Nation finally has real hope of building modern facilities."