Correctional officer vacancies create challenges for SD State Penitentiary

Published: Sep. 19, 2019 at 7:40 AM CDT
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South Dakota has 53 openings for correctional officers. There are 21 openings at the Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield, two openings in Pierre at the women's prison and 30 in Sioux Falls at the South Dakota State Penitentiary.

Senior Correctional Officer Kirk Greenwood doesn't notice the openings too much because he doesn't work overtime usually. He has worked at the South Dakota State Penitentiary for 19 years.

"This job is very, very challenging," Greenwood said.

And that's part of the reason for so many open correctional officer positions. There are more than 50 openings across the state, 30 in Sioux Falls alone. Sixteen of those recently opened up because the state legislature approved more money to hire more officers.

"I want to make sure we are offering a more secure place, improving security," Warden Young said. "I want them to feel comfortable at work, I want them to come and do their job. I want them to be able to go home and not fear for their safety every day at work."

These recently-approved positions will put another officer in a single post area, like the Hill Health Service, where Officer Greenwood works. He is usually the only officer patrolling this area.

"The other officer could do the rounds constantly and keep tabs on the staff and the inmates because officer presence is really huge here," Greenwood said.

This wouldn't make the job easier but would add another layer of security.

"When you work in corrections, you should have some level of being unsafe because you never want to get comfortable in your environment," Greenwood said.

"It improves staff morale too when they also know they have a coworker to help them get their jobs done," Warden Young said. "And also so they feel more safe coming to work. Those are all reasons to help retain people."

Retaining people is something prisons in South Dakota struggle with, which is part of the reason for so many vacancies. Many officers leave in the first two years for a variety of reasons. So the Warden started offering retention bonuses the beginning of this year. A new employee who stuck it out six months would get $500. After one year, another $500 and after two years, another $500 dollars. That would be a total of $1,500 if an employee stayed for two years.

"You have some stressful days. You're not working with the greatest people in the world," Greenwood said.

"By simply just going through the motions every day, there's not a lot of great satisfaction. But this is definitely a challenging job, and the bigger the challenge when you overcome those challenges and get through those challenges, you have greater personal satisfaction as well," Warden Young said.

The Warden's goal always stays the same though, using overtime to fill the void the vacancies create.

"I can't compromise security and safety by going below those staffing levels," Warden Young said. "We are never going to compromise public safety and security. That is our goal. That is our mission is to make sure that the public is safe."

If you would like to apply for a correctional officer position at one of the prisons across South Dakota, you can apply