Navajo cite safety reasons for closing Chinle jail 4-14-07

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) - The Navajo Nation Division of Health has closed the Chinle Adult Detention Center due to safety concerns, and some tribal leaders are worried about finding housing for inmates in an already crowded system.

Hope MacDonald Lone Tree, chair of the Navajo Public Safety Committee, said this week's closure of the Chinle jail underscores the need for the federal government to honor its trust responsibility and to provide emergency funding.

She also said public safety, including the lack of prison space on the sprawling reservation, needs to be elevated to a top priority within the tribal government.

Before the closure of the Chinle jail, the lockup in Tuba City was condemned. The tribe's remaining detention centers can't house additional inmates, MacDonald Lone Tree said.

``The Window Rock Detention Center was built to house 33 inmates, but at this time there are 50 inmates detained there from throughout the Navajo Nation,'' she said. ``The severe overcrowding in all of our jails would place us on the verge of a major public safety melt down.''

The Public Safety Committee has requested emergency funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The money would go toward contracting with the Gallup McKinley County Detention Center in New Mexico to house inmates from the Chinle and Tuba City adult detention centers.

To ease overcrowding, tribal officials also said requests have been made to the courts to release offenders who have committed less severe crimes.

But MacDonald Lone Tree said communities are already too familiar with the ``revolving door'' dilemma posed on their safety and livelihood.

``Communities will not be safe until long term facilities are constructed,'' she said.

MacDonald Lone Tree is scheduled to testify before the House subcommittee on Interior Appropriations next week in Washington, D.C.