SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Department of Corrections (DOC) presented a budget request totaling $4,002,182 to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations (JCA) Monday.
Breaking down the request, the DOC is seeking $2.8 million to fund its contract with the Hughes County Jail to house excess inmates from the Pierre women’s facility, $385k for email services, $301k for utilities, $301k for food services, $248k for medical costs, and $500k for the reissuance of license plates.
The DOC is also requesting a reduction in funding of about $512k in the area of juvenile placements.
In a presentation that spanned the better part of 2.5 hours, DOC Secretary Kellie Wasko presented information and fielded questions from the Senators and Representatives who make up the JCA.
The presentation began with an overview of DOC population trends, with the 2022 breakdown showing 3,375 adult inmates, 3,270 on parole, and 182 incarcerated juveniles.
Wasko went on to give a breakdown of facilities and their various populations/capacities. Overall, the state detention facilities are 120% of their design capacity.
There is only one facility operating with a population below its initial design capacity.
Wasko explained that design capacity means the number of people a facility was initially designed to hold. She also explained the term ‘expanded capacity’ which notes the extent to which facilities have been able to increase their capacity.
- Mike Durfee State Prison (MDSP): The MDSP had a design capacity of 963 occupants. With an on-grounds population of 1,026, the capacity has been expanded by 80, leaving an operational capacity of 1,043. MDSP is at 107% of its design capacity.
- Jamison Prison Annex (JPA): The JPA is the only facility on the list that not currently exceeding its design capacity, which was 576 inmates. The on-grounds population is 523, but the JPA’s design capacity has been expanded by 100. Still, below design capacity, the JPA sits at 91% of its design capacity.
- SD Women’s Prison (SDWP): The SDWP has an on-grounds population of 316, and had a design capacity of 202. The facility’s capacity has been expanded by 128, to an operational capacity of 330. It is currently at 156% of its design capacity.
- Pierre Minimum Center (PMC): The PMC has an on-grounds population of 147 and a design capacity of 120. This facility has not been expanded and is operating over capacity, at 123% of its design capacity.
- Rapid City Minimum Center (RCMC): With an on-grounds population of 293, the RCMC had a design capacity of 216. The facility has been expanded by 204, making its operational capacity 420. It is at 136% of its design capacity.
- SD State Penitentiary (SDSP): The SDSP has an on-grounds population of 683, while its design capacity was 426. This capacity was expanded by 411, leaving an operational capacity of 837. The facility is at 160% of its design capacity.
- Sioux Falls Minimum Center (SFMC): With an on-grounds population of 88, the SFMC had a designed capacity of 80. This was expanded by 164, bringing operational capacity to 244. The facility operates at 110% of its design capacity.
- Yankton Minimum Center (YMC): The YMC has an on-grounds population of 261, and had an initial design capacity of 192. This was expanded by 140, bringing operational capacity to 332. It operates at 136% of its design capacity.
Asked if the expanded capacity referred to a physical change to facilities themselves, or simply the addition of more beds to an already full facility, Wasko explained in some facilities structural changes have been made, while in others, more bunks have just been added to cells.
“We had a room that went from three inmates to six inmates to nine inmates,” Wasko said of a facility she recently toured. “When you add nine inmates, nine bunks and nine lockers to keep their canteen, their medications and their clothing in, we have very very limited room.”
Responding to a question about the square footage allotted to each inmate at the women’s prison, Wasko told the committee that the total cell space remaining between the bunks for the nine women was an area about 14 inches deep and 27 inches wide, which is approximately 2.5 sq. ft.
Asked about the requirements in terms of space for inmates, Wasko told the committee that the American Correctional Association (ACA) requires 35 sq. ft. of unencumbered space per offender in order to be compliant with accrediting standards.
According to the ACA, unencumbered space means “usable space that is not encumbered by furnishings or fixtures.” This means space occupied by bunks would not count toward the required space.
Early in the hearing, Wasko, who took over as DOC Secretary in March 2022, was asked to give a bit of info on her background prior to coming to South Dakota. Wasko, who went to school for nursing, spent more than two decades working in corrections for the State of Colorado, before retiring to work in jails. That’s where she was when she was contacted by the Noem admin about coming to South Dakota.
Wasko’s time within the Colorado correctional system came up later, when Republican Rep. Tony Vanhuizen asked her why it is that Colorado has such a lower incarceration rate than South Dakota.
For comparison, South Dakota’s incarceration rate is 824 per 100,000 people, whereas Colorado, despite having approximately 5 million more residents than South Dakota, has a rate of 614 per 100,000.
Beginning by noting that direct comparisons between states are difficult, Wasko said it is her belief that differences in sentencing laws and Colorado’s embrace of community corrections are the main factors.
“Colorado has a large community corrections presence, where there are community corrections centers that are run by the individual counties across the state,” Wasko said. “They manage these offenders in the communities, much like we see with the St. Francis House [in Sioux Falls] or with the Rescue Mission in Rapid City.”
Wasko says that Colorado has a strong parole presence, providing paroled inmates in the community more oversight and structure. “I think that’s one of the largest things that I’ve had to realize is absent [in South Dakota],” she said.
On the subject of parole, Wasko told the JCA that she’d realized that there was no continuation of rehabilitation for inmates paroled in South Dakota, which combined with the drug problems facing South Dakota, was likely to result in people relapsing.
Wasko said this type of relapse shouldn’t necessarily lead immediately to re-incarceration.
“When we see people that are in possession of marijuana — whatever their drug of choice is — the thought is that they should go straight back to prison, whereas evidence-based practice says we need to actually treat that as an aftercare situation,” Wasko said. “We need to wrap our hands around it, put more resources into it, increase supervision — rather than immediately rescind them to prison.”
Wasko said that by simply sending relapsed parolees back to prison, you’re not getting them treatment, and not helping. She also expressed further concern about people struggling to meet the requirements of their parole, such as finding housing.
“I got a call from a parolee,” Wasko said. “[She was] crying because she was going to be put back in prison because she had been turned down for three apartments because she was a felon — two apartments she couldn’t afford — it was very disheartening for me because she had worked so hard to get through her institutional progress.”
The Dept. of Labor and Regulation was eventually able to help the parolee find housing after Wasko reached out on her behalf. “The [housing] market is difficult, the requirements are difficult, and as soon as you check that felon box, it multiplies,” she said.
Wasko has grounds to be concerned with the rate at which parolees are sometimes rescinded back to prison. According to the data presented by the DOC for FY2022, 40.5% of parolees successfully completed their parole.
Of the remainder, 6% were discharged early, while 41.5% were sent back to prison for technical parole violations, 10.4% were returned for committing new crimes, and 1.6% died before completion.
A technical parole violation, as described by Wasko, occurs when a parolee commits a violation that does not result in a new crime being committed.
This could include somebody who is not allowed to frequent bars as a condition of parole due to an addiction, and they get caught in a bar, Wasko said. This would also apply to someone absconding from parole by failing to meet with their parole officer.
Wasko said that short term returns do nothing for the state or the inmate. “When I see somebody getting returned for 90 days or less — all that has done is disrupted everything that has been done to get them housing, a job, a pathway — why are we sending people back — frankly for 90 days or less — all that did was cause enough time for them to lose everything we’ve worked for them to acquire when they got out.”
Safety of prison employees also came up, broached by Republican Sen. David Johnson, who questioned why safety hadn’t been mentioned in a presentation of concerns for staff which included discussions of scheduling and pay.
“You had mentioned schedule as an issue, overtime issues, salary issues — I’m surprised you didn’t bring up the concern of safety,” Johnson said.
Replying, Wasko said that safety is always a concern, and made a poignant admission regarding the present state of the DOC’s facilities.
“I’ll be honest with you. I’ve been doing prisons for a long time, and on the hill (South Dakota State Penitentiary), I don’t feel safe,” Wasko said. “I can go up on the fifth tier and during open movement, when the doors are all open and all of these inmates are moving, I can scream, I can yell; I could stomp on the catwalk and you will not hear me.”