Higher pay is a path the governor wants to try in South Dakota’s troubled corrections system

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Department of Corrections wants to give additional raises for 20 groups of positions that go beyond the governor’s proposed 6% general increase for state government employees, an official told the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Finance director Brittni Skipper said the department has seen positive trends in the months since Governor Kristi Noem announced a temporary package of bonus pay was available to prison staff. Noem highlighted their need for permanent pay hikes during her December budget address.

Skipper said vacant positions didn’t increase from October to November, the first time that had occurred since March, and monthly turnover rate dropped to 36% from 41%. She said department employees were taking less sick leave too, down 1,500 hours during two recent months.

Senator Reynold Nesiba asked Doug Clark, the department’s interim secretary, why nationwide there seems to be trouble retaining staff in correctional institutions.

“Very challenging work,” Clark answered. “It’s not for everybody.”

The jobs traditionally have been seen by many as a “stairstep” to other positions in law enforcement, he said, and there’s an underlying challenge, too: “It doesn’t matter how you slice it up, it’s still shift work.”

Corrections officers have to be constantly aware of their surroundings, Clark added. “It wears on people.”

Skipper said the starting wage for a correctional officer would rise from the current $17.89 to a proposed $20 on July 1 this year. The 12% gain would bring the state wage past those in county jails in Yankton and Pierre and close to the $20.46 of Minnehaha County and $22.80 in Pennington County.

She said current bonuses for night shifts and double time for open shifts would continue through the end of the fiscal year.

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