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Most jails on reservations overcrowded, understaffed

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WASHINGTON (AP) — On many nights, the small jail on Arizona's White Mountain Apache reservation is packed to twice its 46-inmate capacity with people convicted or accused of domestic violence, drunken driving and other crimes.

Overcrowding is such a problem that some offenders are being released early from jail — on "minor alcohol-related incidents," for example — and officers are making arrests only on "more violent, serious crimes," said Raymond Burnette, police chief for the 15,000-member tribe.

A Justice Department study released Sunday finds that most of the 69 jails on American Indian reservations are overcrowded and understaffed.

The jails serve 53 reservations in 18 states in the West and upper Midwest. Federal law gives some tribes authority over misdemeanor crimes, while felonies on reservations are prosecuted by federal or state systems. Tribes can incarcerate an offender for one year.

Overcrowding is common at Utah's only reservation jail at Fort Duchesne on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Duchesne County. With 22 beds, it quickly reaches capacity and is usually "right at the maximum," tribal police chief Michael Halbert II, said.

The tribe does not currently have an agreement to move prisoners into local county jails, so prisoners get moved to other reservation jails in Nevada, Colorado or Arizona, he said. Tribal leaders are currently discussing the need to build a new jail and are considering a medium-sized facility with more than 100 beds, he said.

Contributing: Jennifer Dobner.

On the Net: Bureau of Justice Statistics: www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/