By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
It has been said for years that Cherokee needs a jail. That reality is one step closer as ground was broken on Monday, Aug. 8 for the Cherokee Justice Center which will be located on a 14-acre tract off of Oliver Smith Road in the Yellowhill Community.
Once constructed, the Justice Center will take up between 8-10 acres, be in the area of 65,000 square feet and will house the Tribal Court and offices, a jail and the Cherokee Indian Police Department.
“Our responsibility as tribal leaders is to make sure that we listen to the community, and we’ve done that,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks at Monday’s groundbreaking. “It’s going to be a great building, it’s going to be a beautiful building and we appreciate all of those who’ve designed it and all of those who’ve put effort into it.”
“But, I think we should look at this facility in a different mindset,” said Chief Hicks. “When we currently send our prisoners to Swain County or to Murphy, basically they’re not receiving the services that we have here at the Tribe. They’re not receiving the mental health services, the drug abuse services, the alcohol abuse services, the health services or any other type related services that we can bring to the floor.”
“We have an opportunity here to really change lives, to change families and to change the community. And, as I look at this project, that’s what this project means to me.”
Cherokee Chief of Police Ben Reed commented, “I see a great opportunity to have the Justice Center on one piece of property. We’ve outgrown our current facilities. We look forward to moving into a state-of-the-art facility.”
“This will afford more opportunities for us to interact more with our people who are incarcerated,” Reed stated. “It will be an asset for us all the way around.”
Cherokee Court Judge Kirk Saunooke said, “I’m going to be glad that we’ll all be under one roof. It’s a historical day, and twenty years from now we’ll look back on this and know we did the right thing.”
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians received funding for the project, in the form of an $18 million grant, from the U.S. Department of Justice in the fall of 2009. The funding was part of a $236 million allocation to Indian Country in Recovery Act and FY2009 public safety funding.
At that time, Tom Perrilli, associate attorney general, said in a statement, “We have many steps to go in what I know will be a long partnership with tribal communities as the Department of Justice continues to take action on public safety issues in Indian Country. None of these resources will matter if we do not direct them properly and at the issues that matter. The Department may be able to provide funding, but only by working together can we make sure tribal communities get what they need.”