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Prison Raises Nice, But Understaffing Still Putting Guards at Risk

Governor Kristi Noem’s pay raises for prison personnel depend on job vacancies remaining open. Corrections Secretary Kellie Wasko told Joint Appropriations last week that the extra money for the raises is coming from appropriated money going unspent due to the fact that the department can’t fill all budgeted positions:

The higher pay that the governor announced last week for uniformed security personnel at South Dakota’s state prisons didn’t involve the Legislature allocating any more money.

Instead, the increases reflect rearranging the same total amount of money to pay more to many of the security staff, according to state Corrections Secretary Kellie Wasko.

In a briefing Wednesday to members of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, the panel that oversees state government’s budget, Wasko said the money was available because 137 of 519 uniformed security positions were vacant [Bob Mercer, “SDDOC Pay Raises Were Based on Money Available,” KELO-TV, 2022.08.24].

Paying current guards more is better than leaving budgeted funds unspent, but does this mean we’re giving up on filling vacancies for the rest of the budget year? Beth Warden’s sources inside the walls say the penitentiary is cutting two-guard posts to one:

“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 [Beth Warden, “South Dakota Prison Vacancies at All Time High, Reducing Officer Posts,” KSFY, 2022.08.25].

The penitentiary has got to do what it’s got to do with the people and money available to it right now. But what the pen and the state have got to do is (1) find more guards and (2) find more money to pay and keep them. Those two actions must happen together; cranking up pay alone will leave the current staff in danger, and most staff will say more pay isn’t worth their lives and limbs.

Hmmm… we just ran a budget surplus of $115 million. A tenth of that money would pay 200 new prison guards at $28/hour.


  1. 96Tears 2022-08-29 17:36

    Noem has the Midas touch in reverse. Instead of gold, everything she touches turns to crap. Good thing for her that she’s never run a race where the voter registrations are overwhelmingly Republican. So flipping incompetent.

  2. John 2022-08-29 20:51

    The SD legislature ought DEMAND that executive agencies return appropriated funds to the general fund – funds that the legislature appropriated for salaries, bu the agency FAILED to fill those full time employee (FTE) positions.
    This will either: save South Dakota millions; or fill the FTE positions. A quarterly accounting would be adequate.
    Presently the agencies abuse unfilled FTE positions funding as the agencies slush fund for any and all imagined needs.

  3. Arlo Blundt 2022-08-29 20:58

    John–it’s been going on for 50 years. The funds are often transferred internally and applied to various pet projects of the Department, usually at the direction of the Secretary.

  4. grudznick 2022-08-29 21:00

    Those bossturds. There is no control and the inmates are literally running the asylum.

  5. MD 2022-08-30 12:11

    Option #3, reduce the bloated prison population.
    Prisons are largely an instrument of social control to target minorities. Most of the people there do not need to be there and that unspent money can be used to help support them in getting reintegrated.

  6. Jake 2022-08-30 18:24

    Grudz- I admit you make a good point; many who are on the outside pulling on the “strings” should be on the inside looking out between bars with INMATE written on their backs. For starters, the former POTUS and many of his GOP cohorts: uh-huh, “I’ll only hie the best!” (crooks, that is!)

  7. Loti 2022-08-30 22:18

    #3 sounds like a better option because it seems obvious who should be locked up versus those that are not posing harm but to themselves i.e. substance abuse. Many can go to Rehab, etc. etc.
    But maybe the “Meth, were on it” is still going strong, sending droves to prison.

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