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Tribe announces closure of Detention Center

Photo Credit: Southern Ute Indian Tribe

Over the past two years the Tribal Council has focused on reducing the Permanent Fund’s budget. In fiscal year 2019, Tribal Council cut the budget by over $14 million. In looking at the 2020 budget and performance metrics of the departments, Council continued to look at ways to reduce costs. One area of focus has been the Southern Ute Tribal Detention Center, which serves very few Southern Ute tribal members but costs millions of dollars to operate. This week, the Tribal Council made a decision to close the Detention Center no later than December 31, 2019.

The Detention Center opened in 1999. Since that time, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe has operated a safe and clean 57 bed facility that provides inmates with Native American-focused programs. The Detention Center has been available not only to inmates from this Tribe, but those sentenced from other Tribal Courts as well.

However, in recent years the inmate population has declined. Alternatives to incarceration can be more effective for many crimes, particularly those involving alcohol and drug abuse. Community programs and Wellness Court have helped reduce the number of Southern Ute repeat offenders. Over the past fiscal year, the Detention Center held an average of 13 inmates per day, with approximately four of those sentenced through our Tribal Court. The remainder are contract inmates from other tribes. Therefore, most of these inmates are not Southern Ute tribal members. The cost to operate the Detention Center is over $2 million dollars per year. By using the services of either the LaPlata County jail or the Archuleta County jail, which is scheduled to open next year, we can save the tribal membership between $1.5 and $2 million dollars per year.

The Tribal Council realizes the Detention Center benefited some Southern Ute tribal members. It was helpful to have a facility on the Reservation close to the inmate’s friends and family. However, due to the high cost and the small number of Southern Ute tribal members who benefitted from the service, maintaining the Detention Center was not in the economic interests of the Tribe. It is best if these funds can be used for prevention services that benefit the membership more broadly.

Over the next few months, Tribal Council will consider options for the vacated Detention Center space. Tribal members are welcome to reach out to any Council member with questions and comments.

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