Letters from South Dakota Penitentiary inmates reveal despair and call for change

SIOUX FALLS, SD (Dakota News Now) –

Our Dakota News Now I team continues to hear from correctional officers, inmates and their families regarding the understaffing at South Dakota State Penitentiary.

No one expects a posh experience behind bars. However, the claim of basic human dignity is not satisfied, mainly due to the shortage of personnel.

Lynn and her family have been friends with Paul, an inmate at South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, for years. The family was connected to Paul through a church program. When Lynn’s children were young, Paul created radios in many forms, such as airplanes and cars. He liked to create things for others; however, these opportunities have been eliminated over the years. Lynn, her husband and adult children now worry about her mental health and safety. The main cause can be attributed to a lack of personnel.

“It’s a kind of human desperation to want to be relevant; even if you did something wrong, he recognizes what he did,” Lynn said.

He designed and provided ideas for prison reform from the perspective of a long-time prisoner. Lynn thinks she has some good ideas that could benefit the penitentiary, but they fall on deaf ears.

“And he feels ignored all the time when he tries to talk to the warden or use the proper channels in prison,” Lynn said.

Paul copes with the stress and mental health issues of his incarceration while running. Unfortunately, the lack of staff has taken away most of the outdoor leisure time. He writes to Lynn:

“I’m so sick of life being a constant battle. In which I am unable to make any progress. I’m not ready to accept defeat and give up on life, but right now I feel so defeated. And as if I had been beaten to the ground, ”writes Paul.

Difficulties in receiving medical care compound the problem. His lingering stomach pains are dismissed according to letters sent to Lynn. He fears there is a serious health problem.

“He feels treated like cattle,” Lynn said.

Inmates continue to write, frustrated by the lack of hiring and maintaining correctional officer staffing levels.

“Improving staff safety and morale is something our system really needs,” one inmate said in a letter to Dakota News Now.

In another letter, the offender states that Governor Noem and the Legislature should not get away with it and continues:

“They are the ones who need to raise the salaries of correctional officers,” he said.

Frustration mounts with program cuts. A correctional officer and an inmate report that inmates have been wearing dirty clothes for five consecutive days due to the delay in receiving returned laundry after washing. Some inmates wash their clothes in a sink rather than waiting. The Department of Corrections says there is no delay in the laundry turnaround, which is the same day.

From our pile of letters from inmates is a comment about rising tension due to a lack of programs linked to inadequate staffing.

“Detainees sit in their cells for 21.5 hours a day. It breeds contempt,” the man said.

DOC spokesman Michael Winder responded to those concerns, saying:

“We will continue to strive to achieve appropriate staffing levels to restore any activities that have been modified or cancelled. It is an unprecedented labor market.

A correctional officer told our I-team: “Prison has always had problems, but now it’s like a third world country.

Lynn says the lack of human decency in the way inmates are treated is creating hopelessness and despair as tension mounts throughout the penitentiary.

“Taking away what little they have to give meaning to life, it’s only a matter of time before something breaks,” Lynn said as she read Paul’s letter aloud.

The correctional officer we spoke to did not want to be identified due to possible retaliation.

The perks keep it there for now. But, he says, “I’m going to hang on for as long as I can. I just try to go one week at a time.

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