Millions Wasted Building Oversized Prisons in Navajo Nation

Tuesday, October 06, 2015
Navajo Nation's Tuba City jail (photo: Felicia Fonseca, AP)

The Navajo Nation, the nation’s largest Indian reservation, has two brand new jails that wound up costing far more than they should have, raising questions about spending on the projects.

 

The jails, which are largely empty, cost the federal government $70 million in economic stimulus grants to build, but should have cost less than $40 million, according to a report from the Department of Justice’s inspector general. Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz reported more than $32 million of the money wound up being spent on the jails’ “excessive” and “larger than planned” size.

 

Apparently the Navajo Division of Public Safety, which received the grants, just kept adding on to the facilities with little or no oversight from the Justice Department. The new prison in Tuba City, Arizona, was supposed to have 48 beds, but wound up with enough room for 132. The other prison, in Kayenta, Arizona, went from 32 beds to 80.

 

Neither facility needs anywhere near that many beds. The average monthly jail occupancy for Tuba City from 2008 through 2014 was between 14 and 22 inmates, with a high of 49, according to the report. Kayenta’s average occupancy during the same period was between seven and 11 inmates, with a high of 24.

 

The prisons are not only bigger than what’s needed, they’re also too big to operate. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, which funds the operations of the jails, can afford only 40% of the staffing for prisons that size. The bureau can pay for just 25 of the 63 full-time correction officers needed to staff the Tuba City jail and 20 of the 51 officers needed at Kayenta.

 

The Tuba City facility is 82% vacant for want of funding to pay corrections officers. The Kayenta jail is completed but has yet to open.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

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 (Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice) (pdf) 

Millions of Dollars Wasted on Nearly Empty Prisons Built Twice as Large as Planned, Watchdog Says (by Lisa Rein, Washington Post)

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