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Senate panel holds hearing on detention facilities

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held an oversight hearing on tribal detention facilities on Wednesday.

Earl Devaney, the Department of Interior's inspector general, said he is still investigating the condition of the jails. He accused the Bureau of Indian Affairs of a lackadaisical attitude towards health and safety at the facilities.

Assistant secretary Dave Anderson said he was briefed on tribal jails shortly after joining the Bush administration in February. Immediately after hearing of the conditions, he started a task force to address problems and found more funding to improve the facilities. He said the BIA is taking the issue very seriously.

Tracy Henke, the principal assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, said that Indian jails never got an increase in funds based on reports that showed, on average, the entire system was not at capacity. But the reports showed that several were operated at twice their capacity.

Tribal witnesses testified that they asked the BIA for help in improving jails on their reservations. They said long-standing problems have been ignored, or not addressed, for decades.

Howard Richards, chairman of the Southern Ute Tribe of Colorado, said that rather than deal with the BIA, the tribe developed its own facility. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) said it could be a model for Indian Country.

Vivian Juan-Saunders, chairwoman of the Tohono O'odham Nation of Arizona, said the jail on her reservation is severely underfunded and operating far beyond capacity. She said the tribe has had to put its own money into the jail to keep it up and running. A new facility, funded by the Department of Justice, is on the way but it will not hold all the inmates during peak periods, she said.

Hope MacDonald-Lonetree, a Navajo Nation council delegate, said her tribe, the largest in the country, only has 103 jail beds for more than 100,000 people. She said people accused of crime are often sent back to their victims the without detention.

Two witnesses from Montana, where a videotape of jail conditions was made, said their facilities were among the worst in Indian Country. Darrell Martin, president of the Fort Belknap Indian Community, and Fred Gardipee, a member of the Blackfeet Nation council, said inmates are stuffed into poorly-kept facilities.

Get the Story:
Native American prison probe: At least 16 deaths since 2001 (USA Today 6/23)
Indian Jails Need to Improve, Officials Say (The Washington Post 6/24)
Bureau of Indian Affairs-run jails a 'disgrace' (Cox News Service 6/24)
Reports of bad conditions at Indian jails concern senators (The Billings Gazette 6/24)
Indian jails need attention now, BIA leader says (The Billings Gazette 6/24)

Relevant Documents:
Witness Testimony

Indian Country Jail Reports:
Year 2002 | Year 2001 | Year 2000 | Years 1998-1999

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Overcrowding in Indian Country jails the norm (12/02)
Tribes lobbying against 'harmful' appropriations riders (11/10)
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