The detention supervisor at the Navajo Nation’s dilapidated Tuba City, Az., jail, says, “the only thing keeping this building from falling down are those bars,” reports USA Today. Condemned last year by the city, the jail is empty except for a few men sleeping in the drunk tank. Under court order, prisoners must be released within eight hours; nearly everyone in this part of Navajo country knows it. Conditions are similar all across the largest U.S. Indian reservation, with jails so rundown, overwhelmed. and understaffed that some believe the justice system has collapsed.
Delores Greyeyes, director of the Navajo Department of Corrections, said more than 38,000 people were arrested by tribal police last year; one third of them ended up being sentenced to jail. Not one served the full time. “Every last inmate is released early,” Greyeyes said. “I’ve been calling it a crisis since I came in four years ago – and it’s gotten worse every year.” Hope MacDonald Lone Tree, chair of the Navajo Nation Public Safety Committee, added, “It’s basically a time bomb waiting to go off. It’s a lawless society.” The problem is not exclusive to Navajo country. In 2004, federal authorities checked Native American jails and found conditions comparable to Third World jails. The inspector general for the Interior Department called it “a national disgrace.”