SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In 2016, KELOLAND Investigates began looking into problems in South Dakota’s prison system when correctional officers came forward after being injured or leaving the job out of frustration. The turnover among prison staff was running between 30 and 50 percent depending on the facility at the time.

Last year at this time, an anonymous letter about those very same issues, led to a shakeup in our prisons and a new government funded study into what to do about it.

Now, despite Governor Noem stepping in to shake up top leadership at the Department of Corrections, turnover and positions that go unfilled remain high. KELOLAND’s Angela Kennecke has been looking into why that’s such an issue.

But have the promises for change been kept?

In some cases, turnover at the prisons seems to have gotten worse, at least at some facilities.

At the end of May, the Department of Corrections’ large facilities had a turnover rate for staff between 30 and nearly 60%.

The State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls and the Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield both had a turnover rate of about 30%. But the Women’s Prison in Pierre saw a nearly 60% turnover rate.

The number of open positions at those three facilities ranged from 21% to nearly 30% at the Women’s Prison.

When you can’t keep staff or fill positions in corrections, it can be a real challenge for people working there day in and day out.

Angela sat down with a former correctional officer turned whistleblower. Brandon Balsavage says he had to leave after three years at the State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls in order to speak out about the lack of safety for officers in the facility.

“This is the one job in my life that I can actually say that I love. And it’s painful to leave, but it’s something that needed to be done because a lot of people are crying out,” Balsavage said.

Balsavage: If we were in West Hall, there are 197 inmates in West Hall. One person is walking an entire unit for a 12-hour shift.
Kennecke: Who backs them up if something happens?
Balsavage: Right now everyone has to basically abandon their posts to come to those units.

Balsavage says he left out of frustration.

Coming up in Thursday night’s KELOLAND News Investigation, “Prison Promises Not Kept” we look what was supposed to change after the shakeup last year at this time and what’s actually happening behind bars. Plus, we see how a pay raise that just went into effect for correctional officers may not be enough to make a difference.