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Prison Purge Expands: Noem Fires Pen Warden and Deputy, Suspends Prison Labor Chief

Governor Kristi Noem’s purge of the Department of Corrections has expanded. After suspending Corrections Secretary Mike Leidholt and State Pentitiary Warden Darin Young Tuesday evening, the Governor yesterday announced that she has fully fired Warden Young as well as his deputy Jennifer Dreiske, who has worked in Corrections since 2002. Noem has also  suspended Stefany Bawek, director of the state penitentiary labor camp known as Pheasantland Industries, where inmates produce license plates, Braille books, signs, cabinets for Governor’s Houses, and other items. Pheasantland Industries responded to the pandemic last year by making gowns, masks, and face shields.

The atmosphere of fear within the ranks is still keeping the source of the anonymous complaint that prompted this purge and investigation and any other current Corrections employees from speaking by name on the record. But KSFY’s Beth Warden, who broke the story of deep employee dissatisfaction in Corrections back in May, has gotten one former Corrections officer, Morgan Stover, to speak publicly about problems arising from lack of staff and gear in the pen:

“Things that were going on and were being swept under the rug, so I’m very thankful to no longer work there,” said Stover.

In the area of the South Dakota State Penitentiary where Stover worked, she observed violations in allowing inmates the one-hour per day break from their cell.

“Meaning you have to escort them to shower and to rec, and if you don’t personally escort them, they just don’t shower and they don’t rec, so that was being consistently skipped on a daily basis,” said Stover.

Finding the right equipment was often an issue, putting her safety at risk.

“I oftentimes would wear a large or extra-large vest on hospital escorts because they just didn’t have a small at all,” said Stover [Beth Warden, “Former Staff Member Speaks Out After Prison Officials Put on Leave,” KSFY, 2021.07.14].

The big questions now:

  1. What problems and/or violations have actually taken place to motivate these firings? (Even Republican legislator Jon Hansen, R-25/Dell Rapids, says he can’t get answers on what’s going on.)
  2. Will the Governor fire more Corrections officials?
  3. What will their replacements do to resolve the alleged issues in our prison system?
  4. How much will the Governor and Legislature spend to fix these problems (because new hires and new gear won’t come for free)?
  5. Will the Governor apply her purge to other areas of state government where state employees are not provided the support they need to serve us well?

“They didn’t only neglect corrections [employees], they neglected all government employees,” said Eric Ollila, executive director of the South Dakota State Employees Organization,in a phone interview on Thursday, July 15.

Ollila said the low morale among DOC employees is part of a history of legislative “right-sizing” — or cutting positions and funding — at prisons and state health facilities in Redfield and Yankton [Christopher Vondracek, “Gov. Kristi Noem Fires South Dakota Prison Wardens as Scrutiny of Corrections Staff Grows,” Mitchell Republic, 2021.07.15].

 

9 Comments

  1. DaveFN 2021-07-16

    SD doesn’t need unions to adjudicate grievances, however anonymous, when we have a know-it-all autocrat to address them.

  2. Guy 2021-07-16

    It sounds like there have been SERIOUS issues going on for far too long at the South Dakota Department of Corrections. HOWEVER, the timing of this is all very questionable to me. I do not doubt that something had to be done. Now, how dare I even pose this question” How much of this is being done by our Governor – AT THIS TIME- for her own political benefit? Why do I even bother to go there? I can answer that question: it’s because after almost 12 years of watching how she operates and CALCULATES, I can’t help but wonder if this is just one more calculation for her next campaign.

  3. John 2021-07-16

    It’s long past the time for the South Dakota legislature to ““right-sizing” [itself] — by cutting positions and funding.
    The legislature (and executive) live in their laughable self-created hypocrisy of creating more criminal laws and adding prison sanctions to existing criminal statutes — then apparently expecting the prisons to magically govern themselves with reduced funding and characterless, inattentive management. [The 50-year long losing war on drugs is partially responsible for the legislators’ prison-term-creep, but not entirely.]

    SDCLs 2-9-33 & -34 require that bills with sanctions include a 10 year analysis to their economic impact on the state’s prisons and county jails. There is no provision to audit these guesses – OR – to audit the systemic cumulative effects of multiple increased sanctions over decades.

    A unicameral legislature of 51 senators would be more accountable and responsive in providing oversight of the executive branch while responding to constituents.

    What’s missing in this story of noem’s mismanagement of the state prisons is the legislative role – especially those on the legislative judiciary committees which have primacy for prisons. The house inattentive include:
    Aylward, Aaron (R); Barthel, Doug (R); Cwach, Ryan (D); Hansen, Jon (R); Odenbach, Scott (R); Peterson, Sue (R); Pischke, Tom (R); Pourier, Peri (D); Rehfeldt, Taylor (R); Reimer, Rebecca (R); Soye, Bethany (R); St. John, Tamara (R); and Stevens, Mike (R).

    The senate inattentive include: Diedrich, Michael (R); Duhamel, Helene (R); Johns, Timothy (R); Rohl, Michael (R); Rusch, Arthur (R); Schoenbeck, Lee (R); and Wheeler, David (R).

  4. Arlo Blundt 2021-07-16

    Well..face it…the Legislature, the Governor and Executive Branch, and a sizable amount of our state media all ignore the basic management issues in State Institutions of all types. They put their head in the sand and hope that somehow, someway, these too large, too hide bound, too much of a 19th century model of incarceration, will be able to just keep the lid on…keep the inmates warm and dry and fed on a regular schedule. The Press just never seems to ask the pertinent question…just reports, flaccidly, on the latest death or disaster. Not only are the inmates victimized but the staff is exploited for overt political purposes.

  5. Mike Livingston 2021-07-16

    sounds to mwa like Aunt Flo created a stir.

  6. O 2021-07-16

    Isn’t this just the conclusion of the self-fulfilling prophesy? When the GOP makes government the enemy, something to be loathed, then continues to cut that government (to keep taxes low), how can we expect anything other than the failure of government institutions?

  7. Porter Lansing 2021-07-17

    O. That’s perfect. Bravo

  8. T Bendert 2021-07-17

    Over the years, they have added more associate wardens than there should be

  9. Eve Fisher 2021-07-17

    “In the area of the South Dakota State Penitentiary where Stover worked, she observed violations in allowing inmates the one-hour per day break from their cell.”
    NOTE: Keeping inmates in their cells 23/7 is called “lockdown” and is generally used immediately after a major riot. The major SD riot happened in 1993, but the lockdown that followed has never been rescinded. Think about that for a while.

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