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Nebraska Raises Prison Guard Pay 40%; Can South Dakota Compete?

In July, Governor Kristi Noem started purging prison staff and dug into one-time money to temporarily offer retention bonuses and raise pay in hopes of addressing a severe staff shortage in South Dakota’s prisons. We now await California-based consultants CGL Companies’ report, due toward the end of December, on what else the state can do to improve Corrections operations.

Recommendation #1 will have to be to raise pay again to compete with Nebraska. Noem’s extra $1.50 an hour for night shift guards announced last August, would bring starting wages for that shift to $19.39. The Cornhusker State already pays starting wages higher than that and is still facing its own dire prison staff shortage. Thus, yesterday, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts announced $8-an-hour raises:

Assuming the union approves the agreement, starting wages for corrections corporals and prison caseworkers will rise from $20 an hour to $28 an hour. Sergeants will get a bump from $24 an hour to $32 an hour.

…State Corrections Director Scott Frakes, at a town hall meeting last week, said the new contract represents “historic” improvements to compensation and working conditions.

He called the raises “game-changers” in terms of validating and paying people.

…The renegotiated contract also affects security workers at state regional centers, youth rehabilitation centers and at the Beatrice center that houses the developmentally disabled. Such facilities also have seen the exodus of workers and the need for more overtime. Their pay will rise from $17 an hour to $25 an hour [Paul Hammel and Sara Gentzler, “Nebraska Corrections Workers Get Hefty Raises in Hopes of Solving Staffing Crisis,” Lincoln Journal Star, 2021.11.10].

A South Dakota guard moving to Nebraska and seeing pay rise from $20 an hour to $28 an hour would enjoy a 40% raise. And according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, the cost of living in Nebraska is 2.7% lower in Nebraska than it is in South Dakota, meaning a net gain of 44% in real purchasing power. That’s a lot of extra validation for anyone trying to make a living doing a really hard and dangerous job.


  1. John 2021-11-11

    This is good news – watching the policing, prosecutorial, prison, legislative industrial complex price itself out of the market.
    The US (land of the free?) imprisons more people per capita than any nation. This nonsense must pivot to alternatives proven to work in other nations. Instead our counties continue building jails like a prairie fire – holding out the “hope” to fill them with federal prisoners in order to “make money” for the county.
    Studies routinely show that it’s far less expensive to keep offenders out of prison, and delivers better rehabilitative results.
    If we can turn the direction of the nonsensical “war on drugs”, then we can also turn the direction of our social and legislative proclivity to over-imprison.

  2. larry kurtz 2021-11-11

    It’s really difficult to imagine a job worse than being a corrections officer. Recall South Dakota’s school to prison pipeline began in 1983 when Republican Governor Bill Janklow concocted a plan to convert the University of South Dakota at Springfield into a prison. Then the state killed Gina Score in a boot camp, ended environmental protection and accelerated the red moocher state’s descent into the hellish chemical toilet it is today.

  3. grudznick 2021-11-11

    We shall see. I suspect we shall see no pouring out of money to the prison guards during the legislatures sessions. But then again, those Nebraska gang prisoners are a lot more dangerous than our South Dakota Nice prisoners.

    Off topic to you veteran fellows: thank you

  4. O 2021-11-11

    But John, where is the money to be made in thinking like that? Worse yet, how can that provide a tangible outlet to all that “law and order” fear mongering?

  5. Mark Anderson 2021-11-11

    It’s really funny in So many ways. We have a military, the “defense” department that costs more than the next ten countries. We have more people in prison than anyone, even China that has so many more people than we do. Senator Cotton likes that, of course he’s a true American who wants to be President. Gosh if we could shrink our “defense” department say to a triangle from the pentagon. Close half of our prisons just think we might actually get a European lifesyle and so many more freedoms.

  6. ABC 2021-11-11

    Largest military budget. Largest per capita imprisonment rate. Lowest voter turnout amongst so called Democracy.

    This lags so bad!

    We the people have to fashion new forms of government, even self government. Our US elections are like going to Walmart and only finding 2 flavors of ice cream or 2 different cereal boxes only. Consumers don’t stand for it, as Voters we shouldn’t stand for it either.

    What was cast in 1889 can absolutely be changed peacefully.

    We just need to imagine something better. We need to run as candidates in new funny sounding parties. We need to do the impossible, several times a week, even every day! The 2 Party system can die. We can replace with a vibrant 6 to 8 Party system, with coalitions needed to govern.. It should be easy to run, lower signature requirements, and much easier to vote!

    Will we change it all for the better? Or will the China-US-India troika continue to warm the planet and kill species in the oceans and on land?

    Remember Afghanistan’s first election for Prime Minister? 150 plus candidates!! Plus pictures of the candidates on the ballot, to assist those who couldn’t read, so they could vote for the person they wanted! That’s democracy!

  7. grudznick 2021-11-11

    Mr. ABC, what names do you propose for the new funny sounding parties?
    I think one should be the Blaggard party.

    It would be neat-o to be able to say “Yeah, I’m a registered Blaggard.”

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