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Anonymous Complaint: State Pen Staff Shortage Worsening

KSFY gets another anonymous letter, purportedly from inside the State Penitentiary, indicating that Governor Kristi Noem and her new prison leaders aren’t solving long-standing issues of employee dissatisfaction:

The most recent author points to the implementation of a new schedule provided by DOC Secretary Kellie Wasko and Director of Prisons Amber Pirraglia as a catalyst for a mass exodus of staff, citing that over 35 staff have resigned or retired in the five weeks since the schedule was implemented.

…According to the letter, at the time of Gov. Noem’s visit [in July 2021], the state penitentiary was down about 50 officers. Based on the standards of the new schedule, the letter says that number is “well over 100.”

Among the workforce issues noted in the email, staff is being required to work more overtime to cover vacancies, sometimes without warning [staff, “3rd Anonymous Letter Highlights Ongoing Staffing, Safety Concerns at State Penitentiary,” KSFY, 2022.12.14].

In addition to concerns about scheduling, breaks, and safety for prison staff, the letter says inmates are also suffering due to staffing issues:

The letter also highlights issues that are primarily affecting inmates at the state penitentiary, such as:

  • Cancelled religious activities
  • Cold showers
  • Increasing infrequent rounds
  • Infrequent rec times, including instances of Pheasantland Industries workers being forced to choose between working or rec time
  • Mailroom struggling to keep up
  • Visits cut significantly from over three hours per visit to approximately one hour, available on fewer days in the past 2 years, and reductions from seven days a week to two times a week
  • Running out of food before everyone has had a chance to eat [KSFY, 2022.12.14]

Governor Noem is proposing $341.6 million for a new state pen in Sioux Falls and another $60 million for a new women’s prison in Rapid City. But current pen staff and inmates can’t wait for the Legislature to pass those bills, let bids, and build better facilities. After a year and a half of making noise and shuffling leaders, the Governor needs to resolve the immediate staffing issues that are burdening guards and inmates alike.


  1. Richard Schriever 2022-12-15 08:26

    The cruel and the unusual. Defines the contemporary Republican base.

  2. larry kurtz 2022-12-15 08:53

    I used to feel sorry for you people but if you live in South Dakota it’s your own damned fault.

  3. 96Tears 2022-12-15 09:24

    Then-Governor George S. Mickelson declared in 1990 that continued neglect of the state prison system will “bankrupt the state.” He inherited a huge mess from Governor Bill Janklow whose administration let inmates run the show inside the walls and covered up a string of scandalous decisions that came to light after Janklow left office the first time. Frankly, no administration, especially Janklow I and II, has grasped the funding, training, infrastructural and management responsibilities competently. Instead, it’s been a can kicking exercise among the politicians while pressures build inside the walls. Don’t expect legislators to take it seriously. They enjoy voting to stick more people behind bars with longer sentences and underfund security systems and guards’ pay. It’s really hard to imagine a disaster big enough that would force the jackals in Pierre to take this crisis seriously.

  4. Mark Anderson 2022-12-15 10:37

    Why don’t they build it in the middle? The women’s in Pierre, the men’s in Ft. Pierre. The legislatures could use some additional employment. Problem solved.

  5. Eve Fisher 2022-12-15 10:53

    A major issue is that no one knows what’s going on. Communication is on a “need to know” basis, from the top down, and most things are done by fiat. The schedule has changed not just once, but at least three times. Besides that, inmates have had their commissary allowance cut in half (no matter how much money they actually have via a job); pastors and chaplains are limited to visiting with inmates to 7-9 AM, even in the infirmary, and their actual time with inmates is severely restricted; and more….

  6. Jenny 2022-12-15 11:05

    Kinda sad when desperate SD workers have to resort to anonymously reporting poor conditions in their workplace. A good Union would have your back and be organizing a meaningful public strike. Gotta love Right to Work States (hardy har har).

  7. cathy 2022-12-15 11:22

    She must have a private contractor in mind to take over the whole thing. Then the state can build them a shiny new, state of the art facility that can run with less staff.

  8. e platypus onion 2022-12-15 11:34

    When was the last time Noem Know and Do Nothing spent enough time in Duhkota to even qualify as a resident? Would her family recognize her?

  9. grudznick 2022-12-15 11:37

    They must already have a union, Ms. Jenny. Any group that spends that much time whining instead of working is part of a union. Look what it got them.

  10. P. Aitch 2022-12-15 12:04

    grudznick is a member of a union and he doesn’t even realize it. Social Security Administration, which gives the old goat a check every month, is the largest member union in USA. SSA looks after its members, bargains for them, and provides benefits that sustain grudz and the free breakfasts he steals from buffet lines every chance he gets. Libbies are laughing, grudz. Laughing, laughing, laughing.

  11. Anne 2022-12-15 15:04

    It’s the attitude of people like Grudznick that is behind the teacher and prison guard shortages, among other service occupations. No body of any intelligence and talent wants to live, let alone work, in a place where such attitudes are expressed and often prevail. It’s why South Dakota is such a great place to leave and stay away from.

  12. Mark Anderson 2022-12-15 15:37

    Jeez grudz, what union are you in? The breakfast club?

  13. grudznick 2022-12-15 17:24

    I am in several breakfast clubs, and some even have punch cards. If you have any breakfast punch cards that are only partially filled that you won’t be using, grudznick can get them consolidated with mine for an extra breakfast.

  14. John 2022-12-15 17:34

    Segue: am surprised Noem failed to call out the National Guard to help with moving snow in this historical snowmagandom. Many units are “engineers” with dozers, bucket loaders, large trucks, etc.
    We have towns that essentially declared martial law — no travel. But aside from the state DOT, lame Noems’ government’s done nothing else. We have schools closed for 4 days with NO state response. Is Noem in Florida, again?

  15. grudznick 2022-12-15 17:49

    Mr. John, if you don’t want to shovel your own sidewalk there are services that can do it for you. Why do you want my tax dollars to pay the government to do it for you? There was a day grudznick could dig snow all day, but now I have to pay some fellows to do it, and they have really neato little devices to help that look fun to drive.

    You live in South Dakota. You plan for these storms and you hunker in with your rations. The weather will change soon, and get colder.

  16. John 2022-12-15 18:28

    grudz – you’re beyond pathetic. Loathesome. Years ago we’d have all hands digging out. Not now, in Noem’s ‘hurrah for me, screw you’ world. Matters little to me – no kids in school, no immediate need for medical care, no immediate need for perishable provisions, HOA plowing so doctors get to shifts — but our society is BIGGER than me, or you. We are a society for mutual support. If you don’t believe that there is room in Moscow for you.
    My driveway is 110 yards long, received 4 plowings and a snowblowing – while the 5-feet + of stuff still falls. Sounds as if you live in a socialist community of Rapid or Sioux Falls – having a collective of folks do the heavy lifting for you.
    Noem’s state government OUGHT to be helping citizens BEFORE she WHINES to BIDEN seeking a bogus EMERGENCY declaration. It’s snow, for god’s sakes.
    But I suspect that you, grudz, like Noem, would rather whine first, rather than self-help, then seek outside help.

  17. grudznick 2022-12-15 19:00

    I guess when you have a 110 yard long driveway it’s best to plan to be able to take care of it. Be thankful you have such an impressive stretch of private road, some people can’t afford the taxes on their meager groceries.

  18. Anne Beal 2022-12-16 00:23

    John, my driveway is a few hundred feet long and keeping the snow cleared is a private matter.. The winter of 1997, I think it was, when the township stopped clearing our road altogether and we lost both mail and school bus service for six weeks and had to keep a single lane of road open, a mile and a half to the highway, ourselves.
    Now it’s nice when the township takes care of the road, but the driveway will always be ours to deal with. If it’s too much for you, maybe you should move into town..

  19. John 2022-12-16 03:05

    Anne, it’s not and has never been about me. What’s wrong with your reading comprehension?
    If Noem can waste the National Guard’s time on pretend missions at Texas Whataburger,, then she could call out the Guard to backstop our beleaguered town and county road crews.

  20. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-12-16 05:02

    Take 96’s point: our approach to prisons is all about being Wild-West tough. Actually managing a complex institution and treating both the workers and the inmates with practical humanity requires intelligence and money, not machismo.

  21. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-12-16 05:03

    Eve, why on earth would they cut the commissary allowance in half?

  22. Eve Fisher 2022-12-16 09:40

    Cory, the excuse they gave for cutting the commissary in half is that the daily food service was getting better. Which would be sort of okay, except that, as usual, the new food service put out great food for a about a month, and is now back to the usual crap. But it’s still not okay, because people don’t just buy food at the commissary – they buy stamps, envelopes, writing paper, toiletries (the monthly “survival pack” that inmates get for free – but is added to their residency costs – is barely enough to get a man through two weeks), etc. Cutting that in half is a major hurt. No one, NO ONE, outside of Pierre can understand why they gave that order, and no one in Pierre is saying anything more than that the food’s better, so they don’t need so much commissary…

  23. Jake 2022-12-16 11:33

    As per usual, in a GOP controlled state for so many years; Smoke, Mirrors, Double-Speak…..

  24. grudznick 2022-12-19 19:02

    The inmates don’t need to buy cookies and cigs at the commissary. They should completely remove the commissary privelegdges except for those fellows who work hard and get out and shovel sidewalks and rake lawns and things.

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