Corrections works to man jails

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Oct. 31, 2013

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The brand new $48 million jail in Crownpoint, N.M. continues to be underutilized as tribal correction officials try to get the personnel needed to open up some of the pods for prisoners.

Delores Greyeyes, director of the Navajo Nation Department of Corrections, said the department is using the facility's two drunk tanks, each of which holds 40 prisoners. But the pods remained unused as the department attempts to train more people as guards and staff.

The department currently only has eight of the 51 personnel needed to run the facility.

The department began training personnel in early 2013 to be guards at the facility under the impression that the guards would need 1,000 hours of training (or basically six months) to work at the facility.

But as the facility opened, personnel officials for the tribe informed the department that the new staff would have to have a full year of security and detention experience to work at the facility.

"We were still operating on the assumption that we could have them work as entry level and then get the training they needed on the job," Greyeyes said.

The result was that the department had to abandon the idea of keeping one of the pods open that would allow for the detention of long-term prisoners.

But that situation is now working with the personnel department officials having "changed their mind" about the full-year requirement and the corrections department is now in talks again about staffing the facility.

This comes at a good time since officials in the prosecutor's office have indicated that they are getting frustrated about the inability to keep violent criminals in jail.

Bernadine Martin, the tribe's chief prosecutor, said she was asked last week to pick between two violent offenders, one of whom would have to be released because of the lack of jail space.

"I refused to make a decision," she said, adding that she didn't want to have that responsibility.

But Greyeyes said her department is trying to resolve the problem as quickly as possible to provide the beds needed to keep violent offenders in jail.

The tribe also has a new jail in Tuba City but that one has been able to open, at least partially, because of trained staff being available in the Tuba City area.

There are still portions of that facility that are not open and Greyeyes said her department is now in talks with the Bureau of Indian Affairs about using one of the pods to house between 15 and 20 Hopi prisoners who would be transferred from other detention units in the area.

She said the BIA is willing to give the tribe additional funds to hire staff.

"I don't know if there will be any cultural issues in connection with housing the Hopi detainees," she said, adding that she would have to check with Hopi officials to see if there is anything that needs to be done to handle any cultural concerns.

As the Navajos get the two jails up and operating, Greyeyes said she realized that there would be problems in fully utilizing the facilities when they were finally constructed.

Part of this was the question of whether there would be funding available to hire the staff needed but at the time the funds became available in 2011, she said she realized that this would be a one-time opportunity and the tribe couldn't just turn its back on the chance to get $70 million in funds to build the facility.

So she is now working with the tribe's personnel department and its workforce development department to get personnel the training they need to staff the facility.

"We're working to get entry-level positions established so that we will be able to do the training here to get them qualified for full-time positions," she said.

"Even if they are required to have 1,000 hours of training to get into the entry level positions, we can give them the rest of the 1,000 hours of training here," she said.

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