Puyallup Tribal Police Chief Joe Duenas says he wouldn’t want to put even his worst enemy in the 10-bed jail he oversees near Interstate 5 just off East Portland Avenue.
“It’s just not up to any standards that I would like to put people in it,” he said of the portable building that tribal officials say lacks space, services and security for those who work or are incarcerated there.
That will change about April, when a $12 million facility with 28 beds opens as the first phase of a roughly $24 million tribal justice center. The project eventually will bring the tribal jail, Police Department, court and prosecutor’s office to one complex. After previous facilities were damaged beyond repair in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, those services moved into a cluster of portables.
Construction on the center began in April behind the tribal administration building off East Portland Avenue, between East 30th and 31st streets.
Most of the new jail was built with $8.8 million in federal stimulus funds distributed during the recession through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The rest was paid for by the tribe.
The tribe is reaching out to workers recently laid off from the Pierce County Jail to apply to staff the new building, Duenas said. It will need about 24 to 28 workers, more than double the number now on staff.
The facility will give inmates access to education programs and recreation that just isn’t possible now, the chief said.
“What they’re doing now is dead time in a cement cell without really any services,” Duenas said.
At present, there’s not space to properly interview or move inmates around, let alone for restorative justice programing, the chief said.
The jail’s head count varies between about five and 10 offenders, and the average stay is about 10 to 14 days. Duenas said he tries to find alternatives to housing offenders at the jail, such as finding space in the Nisqually or Chehalis tribal jails for inmates instead.
That won’t be the case when his officers can take inmates to their own upgraded jail.
The beds, 14 for men and 14 for women, will be available to all Native American offenders, not just those from the Puyallup Tribe, Duenas said. Conversations with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department about possibly housing non-Indian inmates at the jail are ongoing, and depend partly on what’s allowed under a contract being finalized for the jail between the tribe and the federal Department of the Interior, Duenas said.
The new jail will have space for inmates to study for their GED (Duenas recently hired an officer who is a retired principal in hopes he can lead such a program). It also will have exercise facilities and a sweat lodge.
“It’s a cultural, almost religious cleansing,” the chief said about the lodges. “It’s like going to church for some of our people.”
The idea is that the new jail will better prepare inmates to rejoin the community, Tribal Council member Larry LaPointe said.
“It’s getting to the cultural aspect of who we are, where we’ve been, where we’re going and getting them to be a part of that,” he said.
Tribal officials said other community-building efforts include a $9 million youth center the tribe funded and opened last year, and three community policing team officers they’re hiring through a separate federal grant. The positions will be similar to Tacoma police community liaison officers, who work with residents to deter crime, as opposed to focusing only on emergency calls.
“Our goal is to not incarcerate people,” Duenas said.
But when they do land in the new jail, he hopes they’ll have services available to prevent them from coming back.
The safety of not just officers, but also prisoners who could be targeted is another important reason to upgrade the facilities, said Tribal Councilman Larry LaPointe.
The new jail has a drive-in entrance called a sally port, where officers will be able to pull into the secure garage before unloading inmates.
The next step in the project, to add space for the police department, court and prosecutor’s office, will take about $12 million more, and there’s no funding in sight or a timeline.
“Frankly, that’s going to be difficult,” said Peter Mills, an executive for the tribe who oversees construction projects. Still, he said, the tribe would like to see the center finished within four years.
The department’s officers will manage in their portable until that happens, but Duenas said they’re looking forward to the new space.
Instead of an intercom system, he said, officers joke that they can just talk through the paper-thin walls of their offices.
“It’s just going to make it so much nicer to have a real facility,” the chief said.
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268