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Corrections officials say staff turnover is high, pay increases helping

1836a0d32f_SD State Pen.jpg
South Dakota Department of Corrections
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South Dakota State Penitentiary

More than 35 percent of state Department of Corrections employees have left during the current fiscal year.

That’s according to retention numbers the department has released. Officials say that number is getting better.

Turnover at the state prison system is fifteen percent higher than two years ago.

It was highest in September when 41 percent of employees left the department. The department says that figure got slightly better the following two months.

Corrections officials say short-term pay incentives are helping retain officers.

However, corrections employees are leaving quicker than they can get hired. Brittany Skipper is the director of budget and finance for the Department of Corrections.

“Ideally, you want to have just as many start as you have leave, if you’re fully staffed—which we’re not,” Skipper says. “So far, this fiscal year, we’ve had 76 total correctional officers leave and 46 start. We’re not able to hire them at the rate they’re leaving.”

An anonymous Twitter page called South Dakota Correctional Officers says they are at a tipping point.

“It’s time for legislators to step up and fix this problem with long-term budgeting solutions that are fair and competitive,” the group said in a tweet.

In July, Governor Kristi Noem placed the secretary of corrections and state penitentiary warden on administrative leave following a human resources investigation into an anonymous complaint. The two resigned shortly thereafter.

The complaint alleges sexual harassment going unaddressed in the prison system, as well as nepotism and low morale.

Part of that low morale is due to wages and benefits.

Governor Noem is proposing 6 percent raise for state employees. Lawmakers will debate that increase, which will also include community health providers and education, next week when session starts.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.