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TRIBAL JUDGE SAYS INMATES CAN GO FREE AFTER 48 HOURS

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A Navajo tribal judge made it clear Friday that tribal police have the authority to release jail inmates after 48 hours.

The ruling also made clear that police must not violate the 48-hour provision by transporting an inmate from one jail to another in order to extend custody.Both points grew out of a lawsuit brought by a Navajo grassroots legal aid group over deplorable conditions in the tribe's five jails.

In response to the suit, the courts ruled that the jails must be renovated, but tribal law enforcement authorities then closed the jails except as 48-hour holding facilities, saying there was no money to pay for the required renovations.

Since that point earlier this year, the tribe has completed renovations at the jail here and in Crownpoint, N.M., and has put both back into full-time use, the local one for male prisoners and Crownpoint for females.

Friday's ruling was a response to a claim by the legal aid group that tribal police and prosecutors were violating the court order against use of the jail in Tuba City without having made the required improvements.

"Evidence shows that the consent decree was continuously being violated by tribal prosecutors and detention officers," District Judge Allen Sloan ruled.

Police and prosecutors had objected that by protecting inmate rights, the courts in effect were mistreating the inmates' victims.

Criminals "represent only a small portion of the tribe and they claimed mistreatment, but it is their victims that are neglected," Capt. Frank Bradly told the court. "We have to provide (inmates) with warm showers while some of our population don't even have running water.

"If these criminals don't like our jails, then stop the wrongdoings," he added.

Tuba City District Prosecutor Jimmy Dugai agreed the rulings gave the victims the short end of the stick.

"It's been hard on our detention officers who arrest and then have to decide whether or not to release violent offenders," he said.

But he also acknowledged that "sometimes, because they saw the circumstances of the crime, jailers shuffled various inmates between jails to keep (offenders) incarcerated and (while trying to) avoid breaking the consent decree."