Modernizing South Dakota’s Correctional System

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Modernizing South Dakota’s Correctional System

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.

In 2021, 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.

But there is more work to do. 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.
 
Finally, we need to prepare inmates for when they eventually return to society. Rehabilitation is unique to each offender and can involve counseling, drug rehabilitation, education, workforce training, or other needs. By upgrading our correctional facilities, we can modernize our programming to ensure prisoners can become productive members of society after they have served their sentences.

This year, nine women graduated from a precision machining program through DOC’s Women’s Center of Opportunity with Lake Area Technical College. We need to create more opportunities like this for offenders to build skills that they’ll use for the rest of their lives. The upgrades we make over the next several years will include more opportunities like this one to help these inmates land on their feet.

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.

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