Detention facilities draw attention in draft law enforcement bill

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WASHINGTON - After threatening to use the subpoena power of a congressional committee to force release of a report on BIA detention facilities, Sen. Byron Dorgan announced June 19 that the Office of Management and Budget had provided a single copy. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the North Dakota Democrat called for a vote to make the report part of the hearing record. The committee approved, and a Dorgan spokesman said the report will be publicly available on the committee Web site approximately two weeks into July.

Well in advance of the July 4 congressional recess, however, an Indian affairs professional, speaking on condition of anonymity because of OMB;s influence on Capitol Hill, gave word of why OMB provoked Dorgan's outrage by withholding the report interminably. ''Apparently what ticked off OMB is that it says there's a billion-dollar backlog of detention facilities that need to be built. They don't want to hear that.''

Tariq Khalidi Shubnum, principal author of the report, declined to confirm that he had placed any price tag on the construction of BIA detention facilities, or to speculate on whether any weakness of the report might have led OMB to withhold it. ''It would be really hard for me to comment on any of that.''

But if the cost of BIA detention facilities construction is OMB's sore spot, testimony at the June 19 law enforcement hearing focused on costs beyond construction. Walter Lamar, of the Lamar Associates security consultancy in Washington and Albuquerque, N.M., said that a year after its construction, a Hualapai juvenile detention facility sits empty.

''Juvenile crime on the reservation is rampant to the point that the very juveniles who should be incarcerated in the facility are vandalizing it. Provisions must be in place to ensure appropriate funding is available to staff planned detention construction.''

Ron His Horse Is Thunder, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, added that some of the detention facilities funded by Department of Justice grants over the past decade have not opened.

''Standing Rock has one of those facilities. ... Construction has been stalled for several years because our architects have identified an additional $1.2 million in unmet construction costs. Nearly one-half of our resident tribal members are under the age of 25. There is no effective law enforcement for youth offenders at Standing Rock if they are released because there are no facilities to house them. We are working to create a place in the community where individual and family counseling can reverse destructive behavior.''

His Horse Is Thunder urged that draft legislation for law enforcement reform, offered by the committee, ''should address how existing shortfalls will be handled so that in-progress facilities can be completed quickly.''

Other problems that should be addressed in the legislation, he said, are BIA resistance to ongoing operational and maintenance funding once detention facilities are completed, and bureau inability to recruit and train the qualified staff required to open completed facilities.