WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — A U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit reported released in late September that the Navajo Nation in Window Rock spent $30 million more than necessary to build two oversized jails.
The Navajo Division of Public Safety (NDPS) was awarded four grants totaling more than $70 million to plan and construct tribal justice facilities to both incarcerate and rehabilitate adult offenders in Dilkon, Kayenta and Tuba City. After examining the NDPS accounting records and other grant-related documentation, however, the OIG found that the division did not comply with a number of conditions, including incurring unsupported and unallowable costs, failing to match grant requirements and submitting inaccurate financial reports.
“We further found that NDPS built correctional facilities…with capacities that were at least 250 percent larger than needed, at an excess cost of $32,034,623,” the report stated. In Tuba City, NDPS constructed a 132-bed corrections facility with the $38.6 million grant, even though its March 2007 master plan called for building a 48-bed corrections space at a cost of $18.2 million. The average monthly jail occupancy for Tuba City from 2008 to 2014 was between 14 and 22 inmates. However, the new Tuba City facility is now more than 32,000 square feet larger than outlined by the original master plan, costing nearly $23 million more than anticipated.
In Kayenta, the division built an 80-bed correctional facility and police station with a $31.7 million grant, even though its March 2007 master plan stated a need for a 32-bed facility and law enforcement area at a cost of $20 million. Similarly, the average monthly jail occupancy for Kayenta from 2008 through 2014 was no more than 11 inmates. While the Kayenta facility was intended to include corrections, court, law enforcement and peacemaking spaces spanning roughly 86,000 square feet, NDPS built a larger correctional space than was needed, increasing the cost by more than $8 million. The facility is completed, but not yet operational.
“The excessive size of both facilities also creates increased costs for operations and maintenance staff, which are significantly funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA),” the report continued. However, due to funding constraints, BIA can only provide 40 percent of requested funding for tribal corrections officers; about 25 of the 63 full-time employees needed to fully operate the Tuba City facility and
20 of the 51 needed to operate the Kayenta facility, according to the document.
“It is better for the Navajo Nation to have larger jail capacity in these new facilities rather than having to fund and construct larger facilities in five years’ time,” the tribe countered in a written response, included in the audit document.
In a different response also included in the audit document, Department of Justice Director Ralph E. Martin outlined nine recommendations to prevent such situations in the future. Martin proposed that the NDPS implement a process to verify that recipients of DOJ funds are not suspended or debarred; that the OJP “remedy” the unsupported, unallocated or unallowable costs; and that the OJP ensures that NDPS implements a process to submit Federal Financial Reports that accurately reflect expenditures for each reporting period, among others.
Stimulus funding to American Indian tribes was primarily meant improve aging correctional facilities and services to inmates. The Navajo Nation — the country’s largest American Indian reservation — received more than one-third of the money available for tribal jails — and Tuba City was the largest single grant awarded, reported the Santa Fe New Mexican.