WASHINGTON, D.C. - The economic stimulus bill signed into law Feb. 17 by U.S. President Barack Obama includes important funding for public safety in Indian Country. Members of the Public Safety Committee of the 21st Navajo Nation Council are thankful to the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration.
The stimulus package passed by Congress on Feb. 12 provides $787 billion in federal funding and tax cuts for economic stimulus, including $225 million for the Correctional Facilities on Tribal Lands grant program. This important program, which is managed by the Department of Justice, provides funding to help tribes construct and renovate correctional facilities on tribal lands used for the incarceration of offenders subject to tribal jurisdiction.
Navajo Council Delegate Rex Lee Jim, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, stated, "[We are] 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. This very important development hopefully serves as a signal to Indian Country that this Congress and Administration recognize the public safety crisis we've endured for far too long."
"We are so grateful for the leadership of our elected officials," said Hope MacDonald Lone Tree, who represents the To Nanees Dizi and Coal Mine Chapters and who is also a member of the Public Safety Committee. "By including $225 million for tribal jails, Congress has given hope to Navajo families and police and detention officers who have been put at risk due to our inability to incarcerate violent offenders because of our overcrowded and insufficient jails."
The Navajo Nation, the largest Indian reservation in the country, is experiencing a crisis in law enforcement due to the lack of detention facilities. The Navajo Nation has a population of more than 300,000. Since the Navajo Nation has only 59 jail beds for the entire Nation, many inmates serve only a portion of their sentences due to the lack of available detention facilities.
"Finally securing substantial funding for tribal prison construction is excellent news and a credit to the work that the Navajo Nation Council Public Safety Committee has undertaken to educate Congress and the Administration about the need for new detention and court facilities in Indian Country," MacDonald-Lone Tree said.
The Public Safety Committee held 19 meetings last week with key members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to encourage the final conference committee to include jail funding in the final stimulus package. Members included Rex Lee Jim, chairman of the Public Safety Committee; Raymond Joe, vice chairman of the committee; and Hope MacDonald-Lone Tree.
"It is very satisfying to know we were heard, and that the Navajo Nation finally has real hope that we can build modern detention facilities that will allow our families, police officers, prosecutors and judges to see a realistic deterrent to crime. After a long struggle to secure funding, we can now turn our attention to building new jails to detain violent offenders that have walked free due to the lack of jails on the Navajo Nation," MacDonald-Lone Tree said.
The Public Safety Committee greatly appreciates the efforts of Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Bob Bennett (R-UT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) and Congressman Ben Lujan (D-NM).
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