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Over 100 job vacancies at SD State Penitentiary, state reviews funding

Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 10:19 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - With Governor Kristi Noem stepping in to fire the Warden and Deputy Warden at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, other levels of State Government continue to focus on the Department of Corrections.

At the Joint Appropriations Committee meeting in Pierre on Wednesday, July 18, funding was the main focus of the DOC, with a larger picture of recent struggles also encompassing the discussion. Although plans are underway to make improvements, some say it may not be enough.

Darin Seely is the Bureau of Human Resources Commissioner. He describes how offering more to hire and keep employees could solve a problem.

“We need to be competitive, consistently, so that we are fully staffed and we’re not doing double time and having employees work extra all the time, that the plan I’m on,” said Seely.

Officials from the DOC reviewed the status of the DOC with the financial arm of the state, describing the increase in pay for overnight hours, and a bonus program of up to $2,500.

“We have been very clear with employees, that these are temporary pay enhancements,” said Seely.

With over 100 vacancies to fill, there’s a lot of pressure on current correctional officers to give more.

Department of Corrections Interim Secretary Tim Reisch oversees the Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, where employment numbers are dwindling.

“And we need to hire some new employees and we think that the word will be spread that the enhancements of pay enhancements or something, and retention bonuses are something new employees can take advantage of right away,” said Reisch.

Several legislators hope to officially increase funds during the next session, including Senator Reynold Nesiba from District 15.

“All that with this outside study and the salary study that’s going on in the Bureau of human resources that they will have a recommendation that it will get built into the governor’s budget, and that we will see recommendations for increases in pay for those workers at the bench entry,” said Sen. Nesiba.

Sen. David Johnson from District 13 was among those taking a tour of the penitentiary recently and saw staff shortages first hand.

“So we’re considering, substantial raises, and we’re trying to figure out ways to, to bring more staff into the penitentiary system and to pay them appropriately so that we don’t lose them to Target and Walmart,” said Sen. Johnson.

Our I-team looked at the starting wage for a correction officer, figuring in the $2,500 bonus structure, without overtime. The total is $19.09 per hour. That wage is still less than what the Minnehaha County Jail pays. It’s less than the $20 per hour for some employees working for a contract company preparing and serving food to inmates within the penitentiary walls.

“Pay was, was part of it. Working hours as part of it. Certainly, you know the investigative part around the claims of harassment and nepotism and things like that was part of it, it’s a pretty complicated problem. Pay will not solve all of those problems,” said Seely.

To address those problems, a four-month study has been contracted to CGL companies, through their California base. The study will focus on cultural environment, process, policy, and organization.

An internal review is looking at payment options for correctional officers.

Governor Noem says the results of the consultant’s study will be released once it is finished. Senator Johnson indicates the final report will be available in six to nine months.

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