Navajo approves emergency appropriation for Chinle jail 4-18-07

Associated Press Writer

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) - Dispatchers who cover the Navajo Nation's Chinle district will have a more elbow room and much-needed repairs can be made to the district's detention center thanks to an emergency spending measure approved by tribal lawmakers.

The Navajo Nation Division of Health closed the Chinle Adult Detention Center last week due to safety concerns over electrical wiring. The decades-old jail doesn't meet current building codes; similar concerns have been raised about the jails in Shiprock, N.M., and Window Rock.

Since the Chinle jail closed, dispatchers have been working out of a storage room at a chapter house, and criminals are being booked at a local fire station before being sent to other already crowded lockups.

The $748,932 appropriation approved by council delegates Tuesday would allow the tribe's Division of Public Safety to move the dispatchers into a modular building, rewire the jail's electric lines and pay for overtime for officers transporting inmates.

The legislation included a slew of unrelated amendments, one of which would provide $2 million to the Dine Power Authority for operating expenses as it continues work on the Navajo Transmission Project, a 470-mile power line to Nevada; the proposed Desert Rock power plant; and other energy development projects.

Also tacked on to the legislation was $200,000 for renovations to the council chambers; nearly $2.2 million for the offices of the president, the speaker and the council; and $750,000 for the five Navajo veteran affairs agencies.

The measure is pending approval by President Joe Shirley Jr.

Chinle police Lt. Dwayne Billsie said the electric work at the jail should be complete in about a month, clearing the way for law enforcement and inmates to return to the facility.

``I just hope they open the facility as soon as possible ... so we can continue to serve the community,'' Billsie said.

In addition to the Chinle closure, the lockup in Tuba City was condemned last year and is slated to close in May. Tribal officials say the closings present a critical challenge in combatting crime on the 27,000-square-mile reservation.

Officers in the Chinle district, which serves 16 chapters, make about 30 arrests a day, and many of those people are being released after a few hours because of the lack of jail space, Billsie said.

While the appropriation approved by the council provides much-needed help in accommodating the district's radio communications, Billsie said it doesn't get to the root of the problem.

``It's a temporary bandage,'' Billsie said. ``We need new long-term facilities.''