Rep. Hinson secures federal funding for correctional facility on Meskwaki Settlement

U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa).

About six months after the News Chronicle first reported that Marshall County had ended its jail holding agreement with the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi (Meskwaki Nation) and the tribe was considering building its own correctional facility on the Settlement, the staff of Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) reached out to the newspaper and shared that the congresswoman has secured $900,000 in federal funding for the project as part of a larger Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and related agencies appropriations bill.

“Without a correctional facility on the settlement, the Meskwaki Tribe faces serious safety concerns, financial burdens, and sovereignty challenges. I was proud to secure funding to help build the first-ever correctional facility for the Tribe to help deter future crime while ensuring an individualized corrections process,” Hinson said. “I will continue advocating for the Tribe and working to ensure they have access to resources to support their community, traditions, and safety.”

The Meskwaki Tribal Police had previously utilized contracts with nearby counties for holding services in the past and spent an average of $85,000 annually on incarceration. When the most recent arrangement was terminated last October, Marshall County Sheriff Joel Phillips cited an increased strain on jail staff, high levels of substance abuse among inmates and longer holding times due to the schedule of tribal court proceedings as reasons for the change.

Total cost estimates and timelines on the project have not yet been provided. Vern Jefferson, who serves as the chairman of the Meskwaki Tribal Council and is a professional law enforcement officer himself, commented on the importance of the facility to overall tribal sovereignty in a statement to the News Chronicle.

“To act as our own nation, we must control our own justice system. Currently, the Meskwaki Settlement provides 24-hour police protection to its residents and the Meskwaki Bingo Casino and Hotel. While violations of tribal law are handled through Meskwaki Tribal Court, without a correctional facility of our own, offenders find themselves stripped from their homes and transported to various facilities throughout the state,” he said. “Transporting offenders occupies our tribal police’s time and resources, moving officers away from our settlement.”

After Marshall County canceled the holding contract, he added, looking for a permanent fix to the situation made the most sense as opposed to simply seeking out another short-term partner.

“Building our own correctional facility is the best long term solution — one that offers many benefits, along with cost saving measures to the tribe. A correctional facility will allow officers to maintain a consistent visual presence on the settlement and accelerate turnaround times after arrests. Our officers will have increased street patrol times as they do not need to make long trips scattered between other Iowa facilities. This contributes to a safer community,” Jefferson said. “Officers are not the only ones who benefit from the facility’s construction. Having our own correctional facility will bring incarcerated Meskwakis back to their loved ones. It means more visits from family. It means being closer to home. We would like to thank Congresswoman Ashley Hinson for her leadership and bipartisan advocacy on this issue. We appreciate her support. With Hinson’s earmarked Community Project Funding for a Meskwaki correctional facility, the Meskwaki people are one step closer to this goal.”