SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — This time last year, Governor Kristi Noem cleaned house in the Department of Corrections. She replaced the secretary and wardens and other top officials within the prison system.

The changes were based on an anonymous letter about the ongoing issues with management, morale and safety behind bars. Now a year later, our KELOLAND News Investigation is looking into whether promises to improve conditions have been kept.

An anonymous complaint to the governor’s office in 2021, included allegations of sexual harassment, nepotism, poor pay, and bad equipment

Gov. Noem: “I will tell you when I got the email, I took it extremely seriously and started the investigation right away. And when I received the preliminary report on that investigation about ten days ago, we immediately took action.

That action included firing top officials and replacing them with new ones.

Then in April, a review of the Department of Correction, by California-based CGL Companies was complete.
It found that keeping staff was the most critical issue facing our prisons.

High turnover and unfilled positions were contributing to low morale, and according to the report, are “unsustainable.”

“There’s no continuity among the staff. There’s not the institutional knowledge that’s so important in government-run facilities. You need to know how to run it day to day. When you lose those voices of experience, those decades of and decades of correctional service, you don’t get them back.”

Eric Ollila, Executive Director, South Dakota State Employees Association

While the DOC just recently increased starting pay for correctional officers to $20 an hour, that’s not an immediate fix.

“That was kind of an insult to a lot of people. A lot of people are pretty upset about all of that,” Former Correctional Officer Brandon Balsavage said.

Brandon Balsavage sent an email outlining problems to the entire SD DOC

Coming up in Thursday’s KELOLAND News Investigation at ten, we hear from a former correctional officer turned whistleblower, who has written another letter to everyone in the DOC saying few changes have actually happened and that officers are at risk because of it.

“I want a lot of this stuff to change. I want people to know what’s going on. I want the truth out. And they’re not doing the changes they wanted to do. And we’re kind of at a stalemate right now. We’re at a downslope,” Balsavage said.