Safe, secure prisons are a necessary function of government. They’re not an exciting topic. But a functional, effective corrections system is necessary to keep our people safe.
When Governor Noem learned of systemic problems in our state corrections system, she took swift action to replace bad leadership. She provided the right equipment and training to make sure correctional security officers have the tools to do their jobs safely. And she worked on pay raises to retain the high-quality officers that are already there and recruit new officers to back them up. Since then, starting pay for correctional officers has gone from $17 to $23.50, a 38% increase.
Governor Noem has visited our correctional facilities across the state on several occasions, and she has become very familiar with the problems there and what it will take to get our correctional system on stronger footing.
Our women’s prison in Pierre is horrendously overcrowded. Meanwhile, our men’s penitentiary in Sioux Falls is 140 years old and very inefficiently constructed. Many of our other campuses need security and operational upgrades.
In total, South Dakota needs to be planning for up to $600 million in facility upgrades in the coming years. Governor Noem has already started to put money into reserves to help pay for these upgrades and begun planning for a women’s facility in Rapid City.
Inmates need to have an opportunity to access counseling, drug rehabilitation, education, workforce training, or other needs. New facilities would allow us to provide these programs so that prisoners can have successful careers and families when they leave the system.
This year, nine women graduated from a precision machining program through DOC’s Women’s Center of Opportunity with Lake Area Technical College. Governor Noem is pursuing more opportunities like this for offenders to build skills that they’ll use for the rest of their lives.
Modernizing our correctional system will not be easy or quick. But this is one challenge we must take on for the benefit of the next generation of South Dakotans.