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Governor Noem Meets With State Penitentiary Workers About Concerns

South Dakota governor talks to legislators on the state budget.
State of South Dakota

Governor Kristi Noem met with State Penitentiary workers for an hour on Friday afternoon and said a preliminary investigation backs up some of their concerns shared in a recent whistleblower complaint.  

Noem said changes are already in place at the Sioux Falls prison after four leaders were fired or put on leave.   

“I think the employees today are much more comfortable sharing information with us based on those changes,” she told the media after her visit. “Before they were concerned that they would be punished for speaking out. And now we had a very candid conversation in the other room about some of the changes they need to see.” 

The workers’ concerns include pay, staffing, safety and a lack of actions on complaints. They also say nepotism and mandatory overtime are demoralizing.   

Noem said she can’t discuss specific details due to the ongoing investigation and since they involve personnel matters. 

She said some of the state’s $85.9 million surplus can pay for equipment, training and bonuses, but more permanent funding will be needed for raises.   

The governor wants state lawmakers to start thinking about that funding as well as money for facilities. She said expanding staff and physical space is key to providing more rehabilitative programming for the prisoners.  

Reporters pressed Noem on why she supports action now when lawsuits and media reports have addressed some of these concerns for years. Noem said some of the complaints are new to her and that’s part of what prompted her action.   

“Now that we have this many different complaints that have been brought to my attention we are evaluating every single policy in DOC to make sure that we are doing a good job at training people, equipping them, putting them in safe positions and allowing them to be successful at their jobs,” she said.  

Noem said more changes should be implemented next week and more firings are possible.  

She said the review will examine all state prisons, not just the State Penitentiary. Noem said she may share information from the full investigation but will be restricted by personnel laws.