SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — We have a follow-up to our KELOLAND News investigation, “When a prison sentence becomes a death sentence,” on how South Dakota handled the COVID-19 outbreak behind bars.
In 2020, at least 2,341 inmates in the state’s prisons caught the virus and seven died. According to the Marshall Project, South Dakota had one of the highest percentages of COVID-19 prisoner infection rates in the nation.
South Dakota did not allow more inmates an early release or let those being held on probation or parole violations out, unlike many other states.
KELOLAND Investigates talked with family members of inmates who died of COVID-19 and a man currently behind bars who painted a picture of lack of social distancing and little being done to protect healthy inmates from exposure to those who were sick.
This week, when addressing the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, a top official confirmed that the outbreak got too large in prison to quarantine sick inmates.
The subject came up when the State Human Resources Commissioner addressed when hazard pay was used during the pandemic for correctional officers.
“When we needed to quarantine folks, we had hazard pay in place, until the point we could no longer quarantine them because the outbreak was large enough, it wasn’t possible, then everybody was getting it. But as the case numbers went down, we did use hazard pay in the past. We don’t have the need for a hazard pay approach right now,” Darin Seeley, Commissioner of SD Human Resources said.
Seeley says they don’t need to implement hazard pay right now. According to the Department of Corrections website, two staff members currently have COVID-19, but no inmates do. 72 percent of inmates have received at least one vaccination. DOC staff is not required to report whether or not they got the vaccine.