Prison Officials Placed On Administrative Leave Following Investigation
Secretary of Corrections Mike Leidholt and State Penitentiary Warden Darin Young are on leave following a human resources investigation into an anonymous complaint. Governor Kristi Noem made the move on Tuesday.
“My top priority as governor is keeping South Dakotans safe, and that includes the men and women who work at the State Penitentiary and those who are confined there,” said Governor Noem in a release.
The complaint alleges sexual harassment goes unaddressed in the prison system.
“There have been many instances where [Officers In Charge] have taken advantage of their position by attempting to persuade employees sexually,” the complaint says. “Many of these instances have ben taken to the chain of command, only to be completely ignored. The sexual harassment for one individual may stop, but they just move on to the next.”
The complaint also alleges nepotism and low morale due to wages and benefits.
Eric Ollila is the president of the South Dakota State Employees Organization. He says he does not have any firsthand knowledge of sexual harassment occurring at the prison. However, he says having the higher ups and those appointed in leadership positions held accountable is good for the state.
“Hopefully—if indeed there was sexual harassment occurring in the prison system with the employees—hopefully we can say that has ended and say that that is not going to happen anymore because it cannot be stood for.”
The complaint alleges body armor and other equipment are not up to standard and that the state prison has misplaced spending priorities.
“Currently, we are issued the cheapest, bottom of the line equipment,” the complaint says. “Our body armor is not up to standards. We have to represent the [Department of Corrections} wearing secondhand body armor that doesn’t properly cover our employees.”
Much of the rest of the anonymous complaint centers on employee compensation and recent changes to the state employee healthcare plan. Governor Noem pushed for those changes to the state plan, which include premiums for the first time.
“They destroyed our healthcare; is our retirement next?” the complaint says.
Democratic State Senator Reynold Nesiba says Department of Corrections salaries are no longer competitive. Nesiba says it’s time for legislators to do a salary study of state employee wages and benefits.
“I was deeply concerned about the imposition of this new insurance system on this,” Nesiba says. “I said if we’re going to do it it should have been phased in over three years. There should have been additional subsidies from state government to transition to that. That played a role here. That was one of the complaints—that many people went backwards.”
Interim officials will take the helm of the Department of Corrections and State Penitentiary. Tim Reisch will serve as interim secretary of corrections—a position he held from 2003 to 2011. Deputy Secretary of Corrections Doug Clark will step in as Acting Warden.