Cherokee Nation Moving Some Inmates With Long-Term Sentences To Texas

The Cherokee Nation has voted to pay to have a number of its inmates housed at a jail in Texas.

Wednesday, September 14th 2022, 9:17 pm

The Cherokee Nation has voted to pay to have a number of its inmates housed at a jail in Texas.

They are paying to house their inmates at area jails, but said they need more space and places that can handle longer term sentences.

Leaders of the Cherokee Nation said this out of state contract will help them make sure people are safe on the reservation.

The Cherokee Nation approved a nearly $3.5 billion budget, that includes huge increases for the nation's justice system.

"The biggest one in Cherokee Nation history... really shatters our previous record," said Sara Hill, Attorney General for the Cherokee Nation.

Hills said the tribe operates through a combination of different funding sources such as federal grant money and money paid by businesses as a dividend; that money goes into budget and is appropriated by the tribal council to meet various needs of the Cherokee Nation.

Hill said all tribes are looking for solution to deal with an ongoing issue with detention.

"We've dedicated $30-$40 million in new public safety spending since McGirt. In the wake of McGirt, of course, we have a lot more people who need detention who are serving longer sentences," said Hill. "Oklahoma had 100 years to build all of the jails it needed and all the prisons it needed to deal with criminal justice and then the tribes had McGirt handed to them and very little time, and so we had to find ways to work with Oklahoma to the extent we could but at times it's been difficult to do that. There hasn't really been the spirit of cooperation that you might want with the state at times. Especially on some of these big issues."

The tribal council approved a new two-year contract with a correctional facility in Limestone County, Texas after considering several options.

"Keeping our prisoners close would've been the preference, of course, and we looked at a lot of different facilities in Oklahoma, but it just wasn't possible to find a location here. The Department of Corrections, Oklahoma's Department of Corrections was not able to contract with us and there were no private prisons in Oklahoma that were willing to contract with us on terms that were attractive to us," said Hill.

Hill said they'd been in negotiation for six to eight weeks and the contract runs for two years; it can be extended for two-year terms after that up to six years total at the same cost.

Now that they have approval from the tribal counsel and chief has signed off on the contract, it'll go to Lasalle, and the Limestone County Commissioner has to sign off.

Hill said it takes a little time to process paperwork but they're looking to move forward quickly. She said there's more than 200 people in Cherokee Nation custody on any given day.

"We certainly don't want to be in a situation where we're faced with prisoners having to be released early or people being sent home to home detention, when that's not really not appropriate for them and those were some of the choices that we were gonna be faced with," said Hill.

They've contracted for 150 beds to start and have about 70 prisoners ready to go. Hill expects all 150 beds to be full in a few months.

"County jails, the cost average is around you know $55 a day, and the facility in Texas it'll be about $97.50 a day," said Hill.

Hill said many things are included in that cost like healthcare and the weekly transport to between Texas and the Cherokee Nation. She said it's roughly a 6.5-hour drive.

The facility offers digital options for prisoners to stay in touch with family and a dorm-like pod that would hold only Cherokee Nation Prisoners.

Hill said county jails aren't designed for prisoners serving longer sentences.

"We'll still have people in the county jails. We're not abandoning the county jails in favor of Limestone County, Texas. They'll still handle all of our pre-detention needs and we're happy to continue to partner with Oklahoma in that way. I would like to think there's a future where the money we're spending in Limestone County, Texas can stay in Oklahoma because we're able to work more cooperatively with Oklahoma and the state government," said Hill.

Some citizens of the Cherokee Nation are not happy because now, they’ll have to travel out of state to visit their loved ones who are in custody.

Hill said the Cherokee Nation hopes to have a facility of its own one day.

"Building such a facility takes time and planning but it's certainly not off the table. It's something that's really been under consideration since the very beginning. It's something that continues to be talked about. So, we don't consider this, 'Now we're done. This problem is solved.' You know, this is a solution for now that we need, but that doesn't mean we're done looking at on reservation options. Our future is on reservation. We just don't know exactly what that will look like yet," said Hill.


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