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Navajo Nation awarded stimulus funds for new jails

By Daniel Kraker

Flagstaff, AZ – Earlier this week the Navajo Nation received 74 million dollars in federal stimulus funds to build three jails on the reservation. The largest grant the government awarded was for a new jail in Tuba City.

The Department of Justice handed out 225 million dollars in stimulus funds for tribal jails this week; more than a third of that went to the Navajo Nation for jails in Tuba City, Kayenta, and Ramah, New Mexico.

The new $38 million jail in Tuba City will replace a temporary facility that could only house a handful of inmates for a few hours at a time. Hope MacDonald Lonetree represents Tuba City on the Navajo Nation Council; she's lobbied for jail funding for the past six years.

"It is a huge, significant step toward trying to restore law and order on Navajo."

Currently there are only 59 jail beds on the entire reservation. MacDonald says as a result the jails essentially have revolving doors.

"People know they can commit crimes and not serve any time, people aren't willing to be witnesses, and the victims, they hardly see justice because they don't see the perpetrator put away or removed from the area, imagine what it's like to wake up and go to work as a police officer and know there's no facility to take people you arrest."

The new Tuba City jail will have 48 beds. MacDonald hopes the tribe will begin construction in a few months. But she cautions there's still a huge unmet need on the Navajo Nation and elsewhere. A recent BIA report estimated it would cost about 8 and a half billion dollars to modernize detention facilities in Indian Country.