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BIA announces reforms to tribal jails after review of more than a dozen deaths

Federal lawmakers are pushing for a "do-over" of a contract, awarded by the Interior Department, to a former administrator to review deaths at tribal jails. Nearly half of those deaths happened on his watch.
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Federal lawmakers are pushing for a "do-over" of a contract, awarded by the Interior Department, to a former administrator to review deaths at tribal jails. Nearly half of those deaths happened on his watch.

News Brief

The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced reforms to its tribal jails Monday.

That comes after a Mountain West News Bureau and NPR investigation found a pattern of neglect and misconduct that led to more than a dozen inmate deaths.

The BIA then hired a consultant to review the deaths. While the consultant's report hasn't been publicly released, the agency is now proposing changes based on that report's findings.

The changes include more training on how to perform in-custody death investigations.

"The report lays out recommendations for the department, informed by an assessment of the thoroughness and effectiveness of in-custody death investigations," Bryan Newland, assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian affairs, said on Monday.

However, the BIA's proposed changes don't specifically list harsher penalties for misconduct by jail employees or include more medical personnel in tribal jails.

Newland also said he was looking into whether the agency's contract with Darren Cruzan's firm to review the deaths followed laws and regulations. Some Congressmen have been critical of the contract because Cruzan oversaw tribal corrections during seven of the deaths as an Interior official. After leaving the agency, he became a consultant and his firm won the contract to review the jail deaths.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Nevada Public Radio, Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative.