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Controversy at Penitentiary over Governor Noem’s desk order

Governor Noem's desk at Pheasantland Industries
Governor Noem's desk at Pheasantland Industries(Governor Noem's desk at Pheasantland Industries)
Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 8:27 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - When Governor Kristi Noem visited the South Dakota State Penitentiary on July 23, many Correctional Officers were encouraged.

“They also need to know that they’re appreciated, and I feel as though at times, necessarily the individuals who work here have not known how appreciated they are,” said Governor Noem.

Although there have been many positive changes, our sources at the prison workshop Pheasantland Industries, say some of the old ways are creeping back in. Issues are surrounding a desk ordered by Governor Noem’s Office.

Pheasantland Industries, located at the South Dakota State Penitentiary, allows inmates to learn a trade while incarcerated. They earn 50 cents per hour for their work.

Sources say in September of 2020, the Governor’s office inquired about making a Black Walnut executive desk. A quote was given for a desk 80 inches long and three feet wide. The original was to have basic cutouts.

In April of this year, Noem ordered the desk. Although material prices had increased from $6.38 per foot to $8.20 per foot from the time of the original bid, the work was agreed upon at the original bid price according to the Correctional Officers we spoke with.

After inmates were well on their way with the project, change orders came in. The desk size was changed to accommodate another person to sit and collaboratively work with the Governor, increasing the size from 80 inches to over 100. Pheasantland Industries had to re-work its design. More change orders were made, including brass embossing, a gun drawer, leather inserts for the drawer, a footrest, and a state map embossed on the top.

The new bill came to just over $9,000. Sources say there was an order from Interim Secretary of Corrections Tim Reisch to discount the bill, resulting in a $3,000 loss to Pheasantland Industries. We’ve been told although Pheasantland paid $8.20 per foot for Black Walnut boards, Governor Noem’s cost after the mandated discount is $2.02 per foot. Inmate hours we allegedly re-logged from paid time to training time.

Officers say it’s discouraging at what appears to be a double standard for discounting items, especially when co-workers were fired in the past for providing discounts. They were also quick to point out that new management within Pheasantland Industries since the Governor stepped in to change staff has been an improvement.

We reached out to several members of the Corrections Commission. We didn’t receive a response from State Senator Art Rusch, but we did talk to State Senator Troy Heinert, who provided a statement:

“It isn’t a surprise coming from this Governor. that she doesn’t include the corrections commission in decisions from firing the Warden, or Suspension of the Secretary of Corrections for the state. I find that appalling. It’s also troubling that the Governor needs a $9,000 desk when quite a few South Dakotans don’t have a $9,000 car,” said Heinert.

A spokesperson for the Governor says their initial bid was between $5,000 to $6,000 and they have not received the final invoice. Ian Fury, who e-mailed responses to our I-team questions said, “The Governor plans to pay the invoiced cost of the desk. We have not yet received a final invoice.”

We requested a statement and information to clarify the situation from the South Dakota Department of Corrections and did not receive a response.

The desk remains at the Penitentiary, up on a platform, and also in limbo as to whether it will be in the Governor’s office anytime soon. When it does arrive, Noem may find a surprise if the desk is thoroughly inspected. Sources say the signatures of inmates who built the desk have been cleverly hidden somewhere within, including the name of a manager at the Penitentiary, whom Noem fired.

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