PIERRE, S.D. — More Department of Corrections administrators in South Dakota could lose their jobs as an investigation continues into allegations at the state penitentiary and the corrections department, Gov. Kristi Noem said Friday, July 23.
Noem met with staff at the state penitentiary on Friday afternoon in the wake of firing two top wardens after a whistleblower report alleged sexual harassment, as well as poor pay, benefits and equipment.
Noem had "a very candid conversation" with the employees, she told reporters afterward, but added more firings were "possible."
"I was very clear in the other room that everybody's being evaluated. Every single person. And especially those in leadership ... throughout the Department of Corrections," she said.
Noem said the state is moving forward with a third-party review of the state Department of Corrections, with proposals due next week.
She said she'd also announce additional steps next week to answer some immediate concerns of the prison employees, even as an investigation continues into the prison and the statewide corrections system.
"I would say the staff is tired, and the staff is being asked for a lot, and they deserve better equipment that what they have, they deserve to have more flexibility with their families," she said.
The immediate steps could include better equipment, extra training and bonuses, potentially covered by the state's budget surplus, she said. But she added that dealing with concerns about low salaries will require finding long-term sources to pay for boosting salaries.
"As far as a long-term fix on that salary policy, we're going to have to consistently look at money we can dedicate to plug into there for the long term," she said.
Noem refused to commit to releasing the final investigation report on the prison to the public, citing potential legal hurdles, but said she would "follow the appropriate process." She also wouldn't commit to a timeline for the investigation.
On July 13, Noem placed Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Leidholt and top prison warden Darin Young on leave, after being briefed on a preliminary investigation triggered by a whistlebower report from staff at the prison.
The whistleblower report, also released July 13 by Noem's office, catalogs numerous concerns within the prison, including shoddy equipment, poor pay and benefits and sexual harassment, including "many instances where (officers in charge) have taken advantage of their position by attempting to persuade employees sexually."
On July 15, Noem announced she was firing Young and Deputy Warden Jennifer Dreiske, and placing Stefany Bawek, who oversees Pheasantland Industries (an inmate-employing manufacturing service) on administrative leave.
Leidholt remains on leave. Tim Reisch, a former adjutant general of the South Dakota National Guard and a former secretary of the Department of Corrections, is filling in as interim secretary.