Consultant report on State Prisons highlights staffing issues, overcrowding and organization issues

Report on SD Prisons reveals understaffing overcrowding and organizational issues
Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 4:33 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) -A system operational review of the South Dakota department of corrections was just released. CGL companies interviewed staff, went over the books, and toured the facilities.

The first item in the report surrounds staffing issues, including turnover, lack of applicants, and compensation.

The report suggests increasing salaries, asking retired staff to return, and partnering with colleges and universities to offer course credits for working as a correctional officer.

The lack of adequate staffing is an ongoing issue, as noted by Governor Noem when she toured the Penitentiary last July.

“We have an incredible shortage here right now. So I think that people would like to serve and work here we should recognize the need to fill some of these shifts,” said Noem.

In an interview just days ago with the new Secretary of Corrections Kellie Wasko described the ongoing need for additional staff.

“When you’re so low on staff, you need to contain your movement of offenders in the facility. Because if there is a disruption or if there is an assault on staff, we have much less staff to contain it and provide safety to each other,” said Wasko.

An April 8 staff memo from Warden Dan Sullivan reveals 88 security and maintenance vacancies and only 4 new hires out of 9 applicants.

Other items in the report include the South Dakota Women’s Prison in Pierre as the most crowded women’s prison they have ever viewed.

In a letter to the Government Operations and Audit Committee, Secretary Wasko provides a list of improvements already underway. Starting wages will increase from $17.89 to $20 dollars in July.

The correctional officers I spoke with Wednesday are cautiously optimistic and exhausted from the long shifts and mandatory overtime. They also voiced a need for a separate way to bring concerns forward, then just report them to their immediate supervisor.

Warden Sullivan is doing an amazing job so far and he takes staff member feedback very seriously. Having the option to choose between an 8-hour shift vs. a 12-hour shift would be beneficial though. There aren’t a lot of options for staff who work early in the morning and need to find solutions for child care. Some shifts start as early as 3:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. The day shift hours currently are 5:20 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. and the night shift hours are 5:20 p.m. -5:30 a.m. Not many places offer childcare services before 5 a.m.

Correctional Officer, South Dakota DOC

In my opinion, 12 hours is just too much to ask for from most staff. It’s physically and mentally exhausting working in a prison. Staff is scheduled to work 36 hours in 3 days and required to pick up mandatory 12-hour overtime shifts making officers work 48 hours in 4 days. Then you only get 1 day off and they are scheduled to work 24 in 2 days. It’s not enough time for some staff to decompress before returning to work. This amounts to problems of staff quitting and fewer people wanting to apply. Add in poor wages and you have the perfect storm for our current conditions.

There are challenges now transitioning to an 8-hour shift. Some do like 12-hour shifts and have built their lives around it. We could lose them to other jails or different careers because they like the 12s. This is a problem when we are already 80+ staff short we can afford to lose any more staff. Whatever happens not everyone is going to be satisfied with the working hours. We have to run 24\7 it’s a part corrections. So we need to challenge our old ways of thinking and come up with new ideas. The hardest spots to fill are weekend and late and overnight shifts. I would like to see the unit staff and administration relieve the burden of officers in covering weekend and overnight shifts. The prison schedule could also be revised to reduce the amount of offenders’ movement on weekends requiring that fewer officers need on weekends.

Correctional Officer, South Dakota State Penitentiary

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