South Dakota Prison Vacancies at all time high, reducing officer posts

State Prison staff vacancies are at an all-time high
Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 5:46 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) -When raises were announced for new Department of Corrections Officers from 20 to 23-50 per hour, there was a sigh of relief that the dire staffing numbers could begin to turn around. More of those staffing numbers came in Wednesday at a meeting in Pierre.

The South Dakota legislature Appropriations Committee heard about worker shortages in the state’s prisons from Corrections Department Secretary Kellie Wasko.

“Vacancies have been at an all-time high. Increased by 112 percent since 2020,” said Wasko.

Senator Reynold Nesiba realizes Secretary Wasko has been looking for solutions.

“Strongly supportive of the work she is doing, and she took over a really troubled department of corrections,” said Nesiba.

There is more to address than just compensation.

“One of the reasons we have staff leaving at the Department of Corrections wasn’t just pay. They’re worried about safety,” said Nesiba.

He confirms the statement from a long-term Penitentiary employee who says:

“The two-man posts have been reduced down to one. These are areas of the prison where staff have been attacked and killed in the past and were deemed too dangerous to work alone,” said the Correctional Officer.

An inmate risking discipline for contacting Dakota News Now is asking for help for the correctional officers, saying they’re being worked to exhaustion.

“A correctional officer literally burst into tears due to the work conditions, with one stating that she feels guilty when she has to take time off work for personal and family matters because he knows that it increases the burdens on the others,” said the inmate.

Not all who work for the DOC received an increase, including foreman and unit staff, although they are still mandated to work security shifts.

“Do we have to have a whole year’s worth of news coverage about how bad things are before something happens?” asks Eric Ollila, Executive Director of the South Dakota State Employees Organization.

Nesiba desires to turn the situation around much quicker than the years in which they developed.

“We’ve put a little band-aid, a little raise for the DOC employees to provide some hope, and it’s a move in the right direction, but there’s many steps left to go,” said Nesiba.