Safety conditions worsen at South Dakota Women’s Prison amid COVID-19 outbreak

Investigates

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As an outside group hired by the State to review the prison system is collecting information from behind bars, KELOLAND Investigates is learning about ongoing safety issues involving inmate assaults of prison personnel.

KELOLAND Investigates has learned that a correctional officer at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls was assaulted last weekend. According to sources within the Department of Corrections, the officer was chasing down an inmate who turned around and punched the officer. We do not know their condition. All the DOC will tell us is that the incident is under investigation.

However, our confidential sources tell us staff shortages in prisons, especially in the Women’s Prison in Pierre, are creating unsafe conditions and low morale.

In addition, KELOLAND News reported that 21 inmates and 2 staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to information posted on the DOC website.

Now, our sources tell us that outbreak has grown. New mass testing at the Women’s Prison has resulted in 25 more positive cases among inmates and a total of 7 staff members have tested positive in the last week.

According to our sources within the DOC, as many as five staff members at the Pierre facility are calling in sick every day, due to COVID-19 or other issues, making a precarious situation even worse.

We’ve learned that a mental health professional and a correctional officer at the Women’s Prison were both assaulted by inmates recently. We’re told they will recover.

We’ve also learned that the Women’s Prison should typically have 40 security staff, but they have 15 unfilled positions.

The State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls is reportedly down by 76 officers, or 35 percent.

KELOLAND Investigates asked the Department of Corrections for a breakdown of staff shortages in each facility, but were only told that there is a vacancy rate for staff of 15% department-wide.

In July, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem announced a full review of the Department of Corrections for a number of issues, including unsafe working conditions.

The state hired CGL Companies of California at an estimated cost of just over $166,000. The DOC says as part of that review, The Moss Group out of Washington, D.C., is in the women’s prison this week looking into the cultural environment and the department overall.

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