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DOJ audit slams handling of $70M in grants for Navajo Nation jails

The Navajo Nation Justice Center in Tuba City, Arizona. Photo by JCJ Architecture

The Navajo Nation used $70.3 million in federal funds to build two detention facilities that are far larger than needed, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice said in an audit on Wednesday.

The tribe spent $38.6 million on the jail in Tuba City, Arizona, even though a master plan only called for a $18.2 million facility, the report said. Another $31.7 million went to a center in Kayenta, Arizona, that originally called for a $20 million design, it added.

The facilities now lack adequate staffing from the Bureau of Indian Affairs due to their large sizes, the audit said. And it's possible the tribe will never utilize the full capacity of either detention center because occupancy rates have historically fallen much lower, according to the OIG.

"Due to funding constraints, BIA told us they can only provide 40 percent of requested funding for tribal corrections officers, which would be about 25 of the 63 full-time employees needed to fully operate the Tuba City facility and 20 of the 51 full-time employees needed to fully operate the Kayenta facility," the audit said. "As a result, there is an increased risk that the Tuba City and Kayenta facilities will not become fully operational due to a lack of funding."

To address the issue, the OIG recommended DOJ seek a "remedy" for about $32 million in "unallowable expenditures for building sizes in excess of stated need." A response from the Office of Justice Programs at DOJ, though, defended the facilities that were built.

"In consideration of Navajo Nation's population of approximately 250,000, which covers an area the size of the state of West Virginia, the provision of the two new modernized facilities in Tuba City and Kayenta., with a combined capacity of 212 beds through the ARRA funding, BlA does not believe these facilities are excessive," the response stated. The funds for teh center came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the work was overseen by the Bureau of Justice Assistance at DOJ.

Historically, jails on the Navajo Nation have been overcrowded. According to Jails In Indian Country, 2010, the Tuba City facility was operating at 141 percent peak capacity in June of that year.

The new facility has alleviated the issue. According to the Jails In Indian Country, 2013, Tuba City was operating at 50 percent peak capacity.

Kayenta, historically, has been even more overcrowded -- it was as operating at 190 peak capacity in 2010 and 200 percent peak capacity in 2013. The new facility should address the issue but it has not yet opened due to lack of staffing.

Rather than look at peak capacity, average daily population and other figures used for the Jails In Indian Country reports, the OIG audit look at monthly averages for Tuba City and Kayenta. Based on those numbers, the OIG concluded the new facilities are too big.

Get the Story:
Misread the blueprints? Millions of federal dollars wasted on nearly empty prisons built twice as large as planned, watchdog says (The Washington Post 10/1)

Department of Justice Inspector General Report:
Audit of the Office of Justice Programs Correctional Systems and Correctional Alternatives on Tribal Lands Program Grants Awarded to the Navajo Division of Public Safety Window Rock, Arizona (September 30, 2015)

Related Stories:
Report shows dip in Indian Country detention center population (08/01)

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