The Navajo Nation built the $74 million Western Navajo Diné Justice Center in Tuba City in large part to increase jail space on the country's largest Indian reservation. However it may be a full year before the corrections department, and the entire Justice Center is totally staffed and fully operational.
According to Delores Greyeyes, Department of Corrections manager for the Navajo Division of Public Safety (DPS), a lack of money is the main cause of the staff shortage. She said her office conducts and then submits analyses of staffing needs every year to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and then the BIA sends officials from its office to conduct its own evaluation and determine the amount it will give to the Navajo DPS. The process can get lengthy.
"We've submitted our needs directly to BIA each year. We do what we call a federal budget justification for unmet needs and it goes to the federal government," said Greyeyes. "Now we're just waiting to hear from BIA to get a determination in the amount they will give us."
Greyeyes said the Navajo DPS requested $2.1 million in federal money from the BIA to staff, run and maintain the Tuba City Justice Center. As of today, the Navajo Nation has not received any money.
In the interim, the Department of Corrections is working with Arizona's Workforce Development to hire corrections officers in Tuba City, Crownpoint and Tohatchi, N.M. When fully staffed, the Tuba City jail will have at least an additional 71 officers.
Currently, there are 12 officers at the adult center and 25 at the juvenile center.
"We're looking to train between 15-20 under the Workforce Development," Greyeyes said. "Lt. [Robbin] Preston is working on the background checks for about 10 referrals from Workforce Development right now."
The Navajo DPS must perform complete checks on Workforce Development referrals similar to bringing on a brand new corrections officer. Once a prospective employee is referred from Workforce Development as qualified and ready for training, they'll receive 1,000 hours of paid training. The average length of training is six months.
"Prior to coming on the applicants have to go through a drug test, a physical agility test, and they must go through a five-year background check," said Greyeyes. "It's a thorough test they go through as if we were directly hiring them. Any new hires go through the same type of workout before we bring them in."
Greyeyes added that the 15-20 individuals her agency hopes to train would likely eventually be hired on to the permanent staff once the officers finish the academy. But this is all still dependant on how much money BIA is able to provide.
"This is all happening while we're waiting for a response from BIA," Greyeyes said. "I just communicated with our BIA representative James Begay that oversees the Department of Corrections, and he is looking for additional money for us. We will just have to open in phases while we wait for money."
The new jail itself is much different, more technologically advanced, and much larger than the previous building. The new jail has 132 beds compared to only 50 in Tuba City's previous jail.
Officers already on staff must go through some additional training to adjust to the new building and properly prepare for the new technology.
The Tuba City Justice Center and the Department of Corrections will continue to work with Workforce Development during the next year as the Justice Center opens in phases. Preston has allocated 20 positions from Workforce Development.
"The biggest problem is background checks, our contract with Workforce Development doesn't allow us to hire anyone with any charges in the last five years," said Greyeyes. "The next hurdle is the academy. But this is true for all departments too, not just corrections. We're continuously recruiting because of this, plus we have current positions we need to fill now."
The new jail has minimum to maximum-security cells, classrooms, basketball courts, temporary holding cells, and space to provide services such as drug and alcohol abuse treatment. Full staffing of 155 people for the entire Justice Center also includes maintenance employees, cooks, and office workers.