Skip to main content
Current, Former State Pen Workers Say Problems Listed In Complaint Aren’t New
Email share
State Pen.
Inside the State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls.
SOUTH DAKOTA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

The anonymous complaint about conditions at the State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls isn’t surprising, according to six current and former prison workers.  

Gov. Kristi Noem released the complaint last week and announced a third-party investigation into the matter. She also fired the warden and deputy warden while placing the Secretary of Corrections and head of the prisoner work program on leave.  

SDPB confirmed the identities of the sources it interviewed but agreed to shield the names of those who feared retaliation at their workplace.  

“Nothing’s changed,” former corrections officer Darren said after reading the complaint. “I’m still friends with a lot of the officers that still work there, that continue to work there. And looking at their posts on social media, something needs to change. And I’ll be upfront and honest, something needs to change because there’s only a matter of time before another RJ incident happens.”  

“RJ” was former prison guard Ronald Johnson. Two prisoners murdered him during a 2011 escape attempt.   

Former workers say better safety conditions and decision-making could have prevented that killing. They say changes were made but they weren’t enough.   

Sources say the prison needs to be more careful with contraband and housing assignments. They also want to see more staff and better equipment.   

A current prison worker said he’s complained multiple times about a lack of safety vests and gun holsters. He says a supervisor told him to use a left-handed holster even though he’s right-handed.   

“Honestly when you’re handling a firearm that’s not OK, that can be extremely dangerous,” he said.  

The former workers say concerns about pay, nepotism, and leadership failing to address problems are also longstanding. 

SDPB's Arielle Zionts was recently featured on SDPB's 'In the Moment' for a more in-depth interview on the subject. Click here for that full interview.