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Prison report criticizes Indian Affairs bureau

Mismanagement, overcrowding cited

WASHINGTON -- Suicide attempts are common at prisons operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where inmates step over one another in overcrowded jails and corrections officers are so few that prisoners simply walk away from some facilities, according to a report released yesterday by the Interior Department's inspector general.

The report, "Neither Safe or Secure: An Assessment of Indian Detention Facilities," said the prisons have many problems, including poorly trained guards, underfunded medical facilities, and unsanitary conditions, even after receiving more than $150 million in federal funding for construction since 1997.

The bureau is often hard-pressed to account for money it has spent, the report said. On one occasion, the agency, which the Interior Department oversees, could not provide investigators with expenditures for more than $9 million of the $11 million it received to open new facilities.

"This is one of the most condemning reports I've seen in more than 20 years of oversight work," said Senator Chuck E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "It finds very little worthwhile in Indian detention centers, which are overseen by the federal government, and lots of horror stories."

Inspector General Earl Devaney's report coincides with the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall.

"The museum opening is a high honor to American Indian culture. . . . A decent, humane detention system is also very important," Grassley said in a statement. "It took a lot of determination, hard work, and focus to get the museum. It'll take just as much, if not more, to make real changes in Indian detention centers."

At a hearing on the matter in the Finance Committee yesterday, Devaney told Grassley and other senators: "I reject the notion that it's simply a matter of money. I think it's a matter of will." Congress has increased the Bureau of Indian Affairs's yearly budget for law enforcement, including detention facilities, to $170 million from $95 million five years ago.

"We are making progress, but recognize a lot more work needs to be done," said Dave Anderson, the Interior Department's assistant secretary who heads the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Earlier, Interior spokesman Dan DuBray defended the bureau and the department, saying problems in bureau-run prisons "have been years in the making."

Nearly a dozen people have died in prisons run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs over the past three years. The report also counted 236 attempted suicides and 631 escapes in that time period.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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