Hiring to start soon for new jails

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, April 26, 2012

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As the Navajo Nation nears completion of three new jail facilities, corrections officials face the daunting task of finding employees to run them.

But the job may be a little easier since the Division of Public Safety recently gained permission from the tribe's Personnel Department to offer bigger starting salaries.

"A beginning corrections officer currently makes $23,500," said Delores Greyeyes, Corrections Department director.

But as the new jails start opening in November, new jailers will start at $29,300 - an increase of nearly 25 percent.

That's a big jump, especially since the starting salary was $19,000 just eight years ago when Greyeyes started with DPS.

But with the Navajo Nation spending over $50 million to build the first new jails in more than 30 years, officials realize that the new facilities won't mean much if they can't attract qualified people to run them.

The first phase of construction is on schedule, Greyeyes said.

The 132-bed Tuba City facility is more than 55 percent complete. The 48-bed facility in Crownpoint is more than 40 percent done, and the 80-bed jail in Kayenta is more than 15 percent complete.

Tuba City and Crownpoint are set to open in November, followed by Kayenta in September 2013.

Planning is now underway for new jails in Chinle, Fort Defiance, Shiprock and Aneth, all of which officials hope to build in the next several years as funding becomes available, Greyeyes said.

The Tuba City, Crownpoint and Kayenta jails are funded through a variety of sources, including federal stimulus money and the BIA.

The Corrections Department has been taking applications for the new jobs being created for several months and Greyeyes expects the rate will accelerate as people hear about the salary increase.

"We have lost a lot of employees over the years because of the low wages as they left to take higher paying jobs elsewhere," she said.

She is hoping that now the jailer salaries are competitive with off-reservation corrections departments, some experienced people will return to work for the tribe.

"We are looking at adding 160 new positions," Greyeyes said, adding that the department currently has 80 employees.

Hiring will begin in about two months to allow new corrections officers time to undergo four to five weeks of intensive training on everything from how to handle the prisoners to the proper procedures to make sure that both the prisoners and the staff are safe.

They will also be trained on how to handle prisoners with behavioral health problems since many Navajos who end up in detention have chronic health problems or mental problems caused by failure to take their medication.

For the first time, the jailers will be in a better position to handle these problems, Greyeyes said, pointing out that each facility will have a few padded cells.

While recruiting efforts will be intense in the next few months, Greyeyes said the department doesn't expect to be able to fill all of the positions at the very beginning. The plan is to open the jail facilities in phases over the next two or three years.

Another problem, which actually may not be a problem, is where all of these new people will live, since housing is scarce throughout the reservation. Commutes of 50 miles or more, one way, are common and workers with good jobs may drive over 100 miles.

Greyeyes said she expects that many new corrections employees will be from the locale where they are assigned, so they can stay with family members until they are able to move back permanently.

For example, one recent hire is a Tuba City native who left to work for the Salt River Project but always wanted to return to his home, she said.

"We are glad to bring back Navajos who moved away for one reason or another and are now looking to return to their homes," Greyeyes said.

People interested in applying for a job at one of the new jails should contact the Navajo Nation's Personnel Department or any DPS office.

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