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Colville tribe detention center to bring justice home

NESPELEM, Wash. - The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation are taking advantage of the economic push by the Department of Justice for increased tribal justice systems to apply for funding under the Indian Law Enforcement Improvement Program initiated in Fiscal Year 1999.

At present the Colville tribe has no jurisdiction over its juveniles and, after the condemnation of its reservation adult detention facility, it can no longer house adult law-breakers.

Tribal Chairwoman Colleen Cawston said the tribe is more than pleased at the prospect of taking care of its own people - especially the juveniles.

Once a facility is built, the tribe will be able to stop paying more than $200,000 a year to Okanagan County to house adult tribal offenders.

Tribes qualifying in the Indian Law Enforcement Improvement Program are given special consideration for technical assistance and are eligible to apply for funding for law enforcement, tribal courts, detention facilities and youth programs. For the last two years, the Office of Justice and the Corrections Program Office made approximately $34 million available to tribes to supplement existing grants for construction of detention/correctional facilities on tribal lands.

To meet demands of the program and needs of American Indian tribes around the nation, the Fiscal Year 2001 budget request for the Justice Department's portion of the Indian Law Enforcement Improvement Program is $173.3 million, $81.8 million more than the FY 2000 appropriation.

"While crime rates have dropped around the nation for the past several years, violent crime has risen in many American Indian and Alaskan communities," said Mark C. Van Norman, director of the Office of Tribal Justice for the Department of Justice. "American Indians are victims of violent crime more than twice that of all U.S. residents."

American Indian women suffer 7 sexual assaults per thousand population compared to 3 per thousand among black Americans, 2 per thousand among Caucasians and 1 per thousand among Asian Americans. The 1995 statistics show the rate of child abuse and neglect in the American Indian population is the highest in the nation.

The FBI, BIA and tribal law enforcement agencies report that violent crime by juveniles and the number of Indian youth gangs is on rise in many Indian communities. The Bureau of Prisons reports the number of American Indian youth in custody has increased by more than 283 percent since 1994, and as of today 69 percent of youth in federal custody are Indian.

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"For justice to have taken the ball and appropriated funds and to be working with the tribes is a good step in this new millennium," said Cawston.

A supplemental grant application for the detention center was expected by Sept. 30. At that point the tribe will know exactly how much money it will have to build a facility. An Environmental Assessment of the proposed site is complete and the tribes are in the final planning stages coordinating the departments that will be involved in a multi-disciplinary approach to corrections.

A facility capable of housing 56 adults and 16 juveniles, similar to one tribal representatives checked out on the Ute reservation in Southern Colorado, looks promising, they said.

Cawston said the tribe hopes to break ground early next year. Construction of the detention center will be handled by the tribe's award-winning construction company, Colville Tribal Services Corp. Once the facility is built, it will also provide much-needed employment. Cawston said there should be no problem filling all the positions required.

"Our tribe administers our own long-term care facility," Cawston said, "so we do have some experience with what it takes to operate a 24-hour full-staff facility."

Factoring in maintenance, housekeeping, food service, guards and social workers, the detention center could easily employ as many as 150 people, including an estimated 64 correction officers.

Eldon Wilson, tribal program manager, said he is really pleased with the prospects of getting the tribal youth out of off-reservation correctional facilities.

"In Okanagan there's no cultural sensitivity or anything that says, 'We're going to help you out. What's your problem? Why don't you go to school? Why do you beat up on your parents?' And all that kind of stuff.

"So that's what we're envisioning," he said.