10/1/2013 10:29:00 AM Navajo Nation judicial system under review
WINDOW ROCK - After the recent shutdown of the Crownpoint Corrections facility, on Sept. 23 the Law and Order Committee (LOC) discussed reports on the operation and maintenance activities of Navajo Nation judicial/public safety complexes and the lack of funds to operate them.
The Navajo Nation Department of Corrections (DOC), Judicial Branch, Navajo Nation Design and Engineering and the Bureau of Indian Affairs regional office all provided update reports about issues ranging from funding shortfalls, lack of personnel and the need to improve operation and maintenance of the justice centers to function efficiently.
"This meeting was called because of the outcry from the Crownpoint [Corrections] facility being shut down recently," said LOC chair Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie (Churchrock, Iyanbito, Mariano Lake, Pinedale, Smith Lake, Thoreau). "There is a lack of communication between all the entities here."
Navajo Nation Department of Corrections director Dolores Greyeyes said she strongly supports the development of the justice centers, however, the most critical issue DOC is facing is a lack of money making it difficult to hire additional corrections staff.
"According to the 1992 Consent Decree requirements, we must be fully staffed in order to operate at an optimum capacity," said Greyeyes. "However, we are nowhere near the fulfillment of this agreement, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs has not provided sufficient dollars to aid the shortfalls."
The 1992 Consent Decree came about after DNA Legal Services sued the Navajo Nation over alleged mistreatment and health safety concerns of inmates. In response, the Navajo Nation set forth the decree to enhance medical care services, improve carrying capacity, and to have proper staffing to handle inmate population.
"Crownpoint is only operating with eight corrections officers and [recently] a part of the jail was shut down," said LOC member Council Delegate Russell Begaye (Shiprock). "How do we avoid this from occurring at the other new jail facilities?"
Greyeyes said that to avoid the shutdown of any portion of the jail facilities, Navajo Nation policy makers need to press for more money from the federal government to ensure they fulfill their trust responsibility to the Nation, which would aid in avoiding future shortfalls.
Navajo Nation Chief Justice Herb Yazzie agreed with Greyeyes. He said the main issue plaguing the justice centers is the lack of funds in all areas, mainly law enforcement and the courts.
LOC vice chair Alton Joe Shepherd (Jeddito, Cornfields, Ganado, Kin Dah Lichii, Steamboat) stressed that everybody involved needs to improve communication and partnerships and recognize that the goal of the justice centers is to provide safety for the Navajo people.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Yazzie suggested that all agencies meet annually, prior to the finalization of their budgets to discuss money needs and areas for improvement.