DUCHESNE -- A religious ceremony dating back centuries may soon be offered to inmates in the Duchesne County jail. Sheriff Ralph Stansfield said he has been in contact with the Ute Tribe Business Committee in a cooperative effort to provide sweat lodges for Native American inmates.

Traditional sweat lodges have been allowed at the Utah State Prison for the past few years. Stansfield said that as far as he knows, no county jail which contracts with the state to house its prisoners is offering sweat lodges, but that could change soon."We want to make sure we do this in accordance with what the tribe wants to do," Stansfield stated. "We are not opposed to allowing Native Americans to practice their religion, we just haven't had any requests (to hold them here)."

Two Native American state inmates who had requested they be allowed to participate in the ceremony in the past were told that arrangements would be made to return them to the state prison in Draper where the ceremony is offered. They decided they didn't want to go, he said.

The issue was brought to the forefront recently by Whiterocks medicine man Darrell Gardner and his son Edson Gardner, who met with Stansfield and his jail commander, Ned Fillingirn. Darrell Gardner performed sweat lodge ceremonies at the Utah State Prison until about a year ago when the Ute Tribe's governing Business Committee told prison officials that he is not an enrolled Ute Tribe member and was not authorized to perform the ceremonies. Prison officials complied with the tribe's wishes.

Edson Gardner said his father continues to conduct sweat lodges in Utah and surrounding states. The Gardners say the sweat lodge at the jail should be open to anyone who expresses a desire to worship in the traditional Indian spiritual ritual. Darrell Gardner's son David is currently an inmate at the jail.

Stansfield said he will deal directly with the tribe and its medicine man on the issue.

There are five Native Americans in the jail who are state inmates incarcerated for an extended stay. There are also five Native American county inmates with sentences over 30 days.

Although there were perceived security risks with allowing sweat lodges in jails and prisons -- tobacco is used, and the ceremony takes place in a wood-framed covered dome -- those concerns have been remedied, said Stansfield. All items taken into the sweat lodge are checked by jailers, and tobacco-related products are given to jail officials in time that they can be tested prior to the ceremony.

The sheriff recently visited a sweat lodge in Wyoming and talked to the medicine man. He plans to make visits to other sweat lodges as well he said.

For those who participate in the ceremony, the sweat lodge offers a form of mental, spiritual and emotional healing. There are 45 Indian tribes in Utah, and the sweat lodge is common to all of them.

You can reach Lezlee Whiting by e-mail at state@desnews.com