PIERRE, SD (KELO) — Members of the South Dakota legislature have been meeting with the new secretary of corrections this week about the future of the state’s prison system.
Kellie Wasko took over the position in March, during a time when the department was facing problems with dangerous working conditions, low pay for correctional officers and prison overcrowding. Wasko says a more efficiently-run prison system will help address many of the shortcomings facing the department.
Corrections Secretary Kellie Wasko says she has never before seen an overcrowded correctional facility such as the women’s prison in Pierre.
“People are sleeping in places where they should be studying and therefore removing our ability to do programs,” Wasko said.
Programs such as addiction treatment. South Dakota lawmakers are concerned that so few inmates have access to treatment because of a lack of space and staff shortages.
“Only 7% of our population is engaged in substance abuse treatment. To me, that number is appalling. It is way too low for the number of people that are in our system,” Sen. David Wheeler, (R) Huron said.
Wasko says her plan of bringing clinical services under the umbrella of the DOC, rather than contracting with outside agencies, will allow her department to be more responsive to treatment needs and other medical issues within the prison population.
“What I would react is, you know, how many therapeutic communities can we house? You get with the wardens and tell me we can have 50, can we have 100? Because then we’re not affecting 12 people with one clinician, we’re affecting a living environment,” Wasko said.
Wasko says the DOC is getting a handle on high turnover. She says wage increases that take effect in July are a good start, but more needs to be done to attract qualified applicants.
We do need to come back again this year and see what else we can do to round out those salaries,” Wasko said.
Wasko says that includes pay adjustments for longtime correctional workers, who have stayed with the department through difficult times, even as other law enforcement agencies offer higher wages.
Wasko also discussed with lawmakers the findings of a report looking into the operations of the state’s prison system.