SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — During the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, The Marshall Project found that South Dakota had one of the highest COVID-19 prisoner infection rates in the nation, per capita.

More than 2,300 inmates got sick. Seven died. In our KELOLAND News Investigation, we are looking into when a prison sentence becomes a death sentence.

Families, friends and the inmates themselves had reason to be alarmed when COVID-19 cases began to multiply in South Dakota prisons.

In the aftermath of thousands of cases, our upcoming investigation is revealing how the Department of Corrections ignored recommendations to reduce sickness and death.

“I knew John ever since we met in kindergarten,” Boatright said.

Jack Boatright stood by his life-long friend, John Rose, even after he pleaded guilty to raping a child.

“We’d been so close; talk about anything all of our lives. All of a sudden he called me one night and told me what was going on and I thought, ‘Oh boy, how could that ever happen?'” Boatright said.

Photo courtesy: SD DOC/John Rose has was serving a 50-year sentence for child rape when he died of COVID-19

Rose received a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam and had been treated for PTSD following the war. Through it all, Boatright was there for him. He was the first to learn that Rose was sick with COVID-19 at the MIke Durfee State Prison in Springfield.

“He said he was just getting run down and you know, coughing and things like that and he kept getting more rundown. Towards the end there, he had a hard time making sense,” Boatright said.

Boatright says Rose, who had COPD and kidney problems, was sick for a few weeks before being taken to the hospital, where he died.

“The last day, oh it was so hard. It was hard for me–I was almost in tears because you know he was just hurting,” Boatright said.

Boatright and Rose’s son buried his cremains with his mother at the cemetery in Lake Preston.

“He got a nice stone and I just hope when people see that they remember there was a good guy here. He went wrong, but he was a good guy,” Boatright said.

John Rose’s gravestone/Photo courtesy: Jack Boatright

Questions over whether deaths like Rose’s could have been prevented are the focus of our KELOLAND News Investigation Thursday night at 10.

Photo courtesy: SD DOC/Leslie Barse Jr. died on December 12th of COVID-19

There were four or five things suggested--all of which would have done both: protect the vulnerable and also help minimize the spread,” USD Law School Professor Emeritus, Roger Baron, said.

A Sisseston family is also speaking out about the death of their loved one, who was serving time for drugs. Leslie Barse had a number of serious underlying medical conditions. Barse’s family says the Department of Corrections failed to protect him from dying from COVID-19.

Don’t miss when a “prison sentence becomes a death sentence” Thursday night at 10.