Last week, Beth Warden reported that Secretary of Corrections Kellie Wasko is having penitentiary inmates build a $13,000 solid red oak desk. That beats the fancy gun-and-footrest desk Governor Kristi Noem had inmates build for her by $4,000.
Senator Jean Hunhoff (R-18/Yankton) offers this amusing justification for such extravagant officeware:
I did a follow-up on the purchase of the desk, and I concluded that the decision was within the norms of the requested purchase. The purchase of the desk had four furniture components with it for the desk efficiency and organization, following the ordering process of the agency. The Secretary had concluded that since Pheasantland industries is within the correctional system, it would be appropriate to purchase the desks from them. Pheasantland industries is a business within the walls that provides job training and skill set for the inmates to be able to enter the workforce after completing their prison sentence. It would make sense to utilize the industries to support the operations since it is a state entity. And from my knowledge base, the type of desk structure that was being requested is within the realm of a fair market price for the same type of desk. The Secretary concluded that this was an opportunity to showcase the industry that way to promote to our visitors that come to our office and Pierre. It would seem supporting a vocational opportunity for the inmates that work and doesn’t lend industries is more positive than it is negative [Sen. Jean Hunhoff, in Beth Warden, “Taxpayers to Foot the Bill for $13,000 Desk in Secretary of Corrections Office,” KSFY, 2023.03.20].
Well, heck: if luxury furniture is a way to help rehabilitate prisoners, let’s order 100-inch desks for every state employee! Oak, mahogany, cherry—give our inmate-craftsmen experience with every type of wood!
Of course, we wouldn’t want to build such desks for everyone. We also want inmates to learn the most important lesson of South Dakota crony capitalism: bigwigs and buttkissers get super perks, while regular workers salvage their desks at rummage sales.
Probably not getting a $13,000 oak desk is Dan Sullivan, the man Governor Noem brought in to replace the warden she sacked in 2021 when prison poop hit the public fan. Last week pen staff learned that Teresa Bittinger is their new interim boss. Bittinger was hired as an associate warden just a few weeks ago. Open.SD.gov still lists Bittinger as an “Assistant Administrator M” making $97,649.92 a year and Sullivan as “Administrator N” at $125,292.00 a year. The state is refusing to comment further on Bittinger’s background, the size of her desk, or ousted warden Sullivan’s status. The only Teresa Bittinger I can find online who may fit this hire appears to have worked as a parole supervisor in Nebraska, a deputy warden in New Mexico. In 2015, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts appointed her to Nebraska’s Board of Parole, where Bittinger served a four-year term. Bittinger also appears to moonlight in digital marketing, “motivating women to live their best lifes“.
Maybe Bittinger can help Hunhoff and Wasko live better lifes and do a better job of marketing luxury desks built by inmate labor for state officials.
There’s been a lot of radio silence about Sullivan’s leaving and Bittinger’s coming. In fact, so silent, you could almost say it’s dead.
Slavery was just job training Cory.
I think inmates could be employed in doing restoration work on historic structures around the state. SD can model its prisoner slave labor industry on the old South and in that way advance the state toward ever greater parity with Mississippi.
Ms. Bittinger proclaims, “motivating women to live their best lifes [sic] is who I am” because she “figured out the secret to earning a consistent and reliable income”.
Yeah, it’s called a job. I think what she means to say is the secret to having it made is by coming to South Dakota penitentiaries to work for the corrupt governor because you get to do what you want and have it all without being qualified or having to produce anything or build anything or create anything or show anything is completed or improved thanks to your labors. Carpetbagging in SD is not a secret.
Well, the whole thing seems nuts to me. When I worked in Pierre there were plenty of Department Secretaries and Division Directors working behind old steelcase desks from the Foss era. These desks are built like tanks, there is nothing to “wear out”. Nobody I knew ever took desks as status symbols. If we needed a new desk there were plenty of them piled up in the warehouse. Everybody had more or less the same desk. If Ms. Bittinger has figured out “the secret to earning a consistent and reliable income” working for the State of South Dakota, I think she’s got another think coming.
From what I could gather from online research, it looks like Bittinger worked for a “for-profit” prison in New Mexico, but she left there shortly after the state took it over. It seems as if the trend in New Mexico is to move away from “for-profit” prisons, and back to institutions that might have an interest in rehabilitating people. This fits with what seems to be Noem’s desire to ruin the prison system in South Dakota, so she can throw up her arms and mug for the TV cameras saying, “Things are so bad here, we have no choice but to move to ‘for-profit’ prisons!” This is something she has wanted to do all along, because that is what her boy Donald would have wanted. Of course, I could be wrong about all of this, but I don’t think I am.
DJBJR, I’m having trouble finding any specifics about Bittinger’s employment in New Mexico. What prison/prison company did she work for?
Cory, Try these:
(this is from a Google search of New Mexico prisons. Scroll down to a questions that reads “What private prisons are in New Mexico”)
Last November, the state took control of two more private prisons — the 673-bed Northwest New Mexico Correctional Center in Grants and the 590-bed Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa, operated by CoreCivic and GEO Group, respectively.