SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Data and research confirm a complaint about low pay for officers working for the South Dakota Department of Corrections.

Low pay was cited in a complaint about DOC conditions which was shared July 13 by Gov. Kristi Noem. Noem announced Tuesday that she had placed Secretary of Corrections Mike Leidholt and State Penitentiary Warden Darin Young on administrative leave after a review of the complaint about DOC working conditions. Tim Reisch will serve as interim Secretary of Corrections. Doug Clark, the Deputy Secretary of Corrections, is stepping in as acting warden of the State Penitentiary.

The South Dakota DOC is hiring corrections officers at the state prison in Pierre, Sioux Falls, Springfield and Yankton at a starting wage of $17.89 per hour, $18.89 per hour on weekends, according to a state job posting.

The Iowa Department of Corrections has several openings for correctional officers on its website with a listed annual salary range of $42,764.80 to $63,377.60. At $42,764.80 that’s at least $21 per hour.

A Minnesota corrections officer in training will receive $21.06 per hour during the initial 6-week training academy, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections. After successful completion of the 6-week training academy, trainees will move to the Corrections Officer 1 classification, and the rate of pay will remain the same.

After one year, the officer is promoted to Corrections Officer 2 with a salary range of $21.63 to $31.25 per hour ($45,163 to $65,250).

In Nebraska, the state department of corrections lists several types of correction security positions including a corrections corporal at $20 per hour. The job description said a corrections corporal will supervise inmates said the average annual wage for a corrections officer in Nebraska is $42,668.

State Senator Reynold Nesiba, a Democrat from Sioux Falls, said the current DOC pay for corrections officer has led to a short-term crisis.

“It’s my understanding the state is short 60 to 70 full-time equivalent employees,” Nesiba said.

The low pay and shortage is particularly felt in Sioux Falls where the DOC “no longer offers competitive wages,” Nesiba said.

Turnover rates and difficulty in hiring DOC officers has been an industry concern for several years.

A 2019 report by National Institute of Justice cited turnover rates as high as 55% in some state prisons. As of the December 2019 report said  Kansas and West Virginia recently issued state of emergency declarations in response to understaffed institutions.

On Jan. 13, 2019, the Nebraska Department of Corrections highlighted a turnover rate of just over 30% at the state prison. That was a 21% reduction from 2018.

The South Dakota Corrections Commission reviewed turnover rates for corrections officers at a May 18, 2016, meeting. Minutes from that meeting said “Since FY 2014, turnover has generally gone down with the exception of 3.3% increase at the SDSP from FY 2015 to FY 2016 and a 2.3% increase at SDWP from FY 2014 to FY 2015.

A KELOLAND News story from June 15, 2016, said according to the state, the DOC officer turnover rate was about 34% at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls which was about 12% higher than 2015.

Nesiba said corrections officers at the state prison in Sioux Falls are now working overtime to fill the void left by departing officers.

Population grows as struggles with staffing continue

The concerns about staffing come as the prison population continues to grow, or remain fairly steady.

The Vera Institute of Justice said South Dakota’s prison population increased by 15% from 2006 to 2016. The state was projecting a 2% increase from 2014 to 2018, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Trust.

The state’s fiscal year 2019 report said “At the end of the fiscal year, there were 3,819 state prison inmates (3,298 males and 521 females), a decrease of 182 inmates from the end of fiscal year 2018, which was an all-time high 4,001.” Average daily counts for men and women increased from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2019.

As of June 31, the state had 3,719 total state inmates which included 435 women and 3,284 men.

Low pay, turnover rates, have an impact

Of all U.S. workers, correctional officers have one of the highest rates of nonfatal, work-related injuries U.S., according to a 2013 study called “Correctional Officers Killed or Injured on the Job.” In 2011, correctional officers experienced 254 work-related injuries per 10,000 FTEs due to assaults and violent acts.

A 2017 National Institute of Justice research paper said turnover rates impacts staffing and can negatively impact security.

The RAND Corporation did a study on the challenges in the criminal justice workforce. The study said that jobs such as corrections officers have high stressors and turnover can compound those stressors.

One of the recommendations from research by the National Institute of Corrections was to address staffing shortage issues at facilities.

What’s the potential solution?

Nesiba said the DOC may have some ability to adjust its budget to address the pay of corrections officers.

The long-term solutions will need to come from the Legislature, Nesiba said.

The state Legislature has a special session in November but a plan to assist with concerns such as pay for corrections officers may not be ready by November, Nesiba said.

The Legislature must address pay and concerns about health care insurance and others during the regular session, Nesiba said.

Nesiba said Reisch has a history advocating for the workforce while he served as Secretary of Corrections, so if his continues that could help prompt definite action by the Legislature.