Changes for SD State Penitentiary employees November 9 add to growing frustration, security concerns

SD State Penitentiary face changes in shifts, other changes November 9
Published: Nov. 7, 2022 at 8:44 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) -While many South Dakotans for eyeing Tuesday’s election, correctional officers at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls are looking at the following day when changes are to take place on the job.

The main change is the shifts from 12 hours to 8 hours, but it is not an even trade, according to some correctional officers. The staff shortage continues, putting pressure on everyone who works or lives at the Penitentiary.

Once the metal bars close at the main entrance, safety is a concern for everyone, including inmates. In addition, reducing officers is so worrisome to an offender that he took the risk of being punished for calling us.

The institution itself has really gotten out of control. It’s getting worse. I think that they need to get it under control before it really is more out of control to where they can’t handle it,” said the inmate.

Representative Shawn Bordeaux, who is on Legislature’s Corrections committee, is asking questions:

“Why is there all this chaos? It just seems like we’re kind of an unfair workplace,” said Bordeaux.

Correctional officers tell our I-team that they may be scheduled for 8-hour shifts but to prepare to work longer workdays at times.

“Whether it’s 12 hours down to eight or vice versa, you know, our employees ought to kind of know what to expect when they go to work,” said Bordeaux.

In July of 2021, we were told the Penitentiary was down 51 staff members; during the same timeframe, Governor Noem toured the facility.

“The staff is tired, and the staff is being asked for a lot,” said Governor Noem as she addressed the media following a tour and conversations of the Penitentiary.

Today, over 100 positions are vacant, and one of our sources says the current schedule reflects about 50 fewer posts. Many posts have been reduced from two to one in recent months.

When visiting the Penitentiary in July of 2021, Governor Noem acknowledged changes were needed.

“They deserve to have more flexibility with their families,” said Governor Noem.

The new 8-hour shifts were assigned by a bid process, not by seniority, but by the date of the last position change. As a result, some correctional officers lost daytime shifts and will have to work weekends again, losing time with their families.

On Thursday, a correctional officer told us, “Today was so bad the inmates did not receive any recreation because there was not enough staff, and the chapel activities were shut down in the afternoon. Inmates in the past would receive 2 hours of recreation every day. They’re now receiving rec once every other day, for 1 hour.”

Most of us have given up trying to fix the problems with the prison because the warden has been told by the new secretary of corrections he’s no longer allowed to discuss prison issues with the staff other than who’s directly below him.

When anyone sends administration emails, they do not respond. We are told to bring all of our issues through the chain of command, but that’s absolutely useless because we do not get a response back also. I sure hope the new secretary of corrections is smarter than the rest of us and nobody gets hurt.

There are allegations the position vacancy rate will look better after November 9th, with the elimination of open jobs.

“A staffing analysis was conducted, with the facility leadership, to disseminate the allocated positions across the facility in the most efficient manner. No positions were “eliminated.”

The facility will begin the transition back to 8-hour shifts on November 9th. Post assignments have been made for staff members following a bid process.” Michael Winder, DOC media information officer

We also asked why these changes are happening the day after the election and were told it was just a coincidence and that November 9th is the beginning of a new pay period.