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Hughes County Jail employees serving as good neighbors

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Forty-five employees work at the Hughes County Regional Jail, that is when they have a full staff.

“And we are not ever fully staffed,” Hughes County Sheriff Darin Johnson said. “Always being short staffed is part of being in a high-stress line of work. Always trying to employ is a norm for such facilities in South Dakota and across the country. We are not alone.”

Including correctional officers, maintenance workers, administrators and others, the jail needs 36 employees on its adult side and nine on its juvenile side.

On an average day during the year, the inmate population is around 140-150 people, counting adults and juveniles. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the numbers have been slightly down. For example, on the particular day the Capital Journal got this information, there were only 97 inmates. The county jail was built in 2010 to house 168 adults and 16 juveniles, a total of 184 inmates.

“We have reached that,” Johnson said. “There have been times when we’ve had to facilitate with cots, but that’s been pretty rare.”

“The regional jail can be a revenue source, though not a profit-maker, in that we charge other entities to hold their prisoners here,” Johnson said. “I would say that 65-70% on a given day are from other entities, such as other counties and the United States Marshals. The Marshals are the main entity as far as holding inmates.”

The Pierre area community has seemingly accepted the regional jail as a neighbor.

“I’ve never personally heard a backlash of having this facility here in Pierre,” Johnson said. “We are a large, functioning facility. We need utilities and other businesses for maintenance and upkeep. We definitely help out the local economy.”

“It’s servicing the needs that it was designed for,” Hughes County Manager Kevin Hipple said of the facility. “Most of the work on it since it was built has been regular upkeep, except for an upgrade to the security electronics.”

Jerry Johnson, project construction manager at risk when the jail was built, said the complex has around 50 miles of wiring.

Hipple said ground was broken for the Hughes County Regional Jail in October 2008. Inmates were housed in cells in February 2010.

The 32,000 square-foot complex cost just under $10 million, while requiring approximately 20 subcontractors. The 10-acres of the jail grounds is at 3100 E. Hwy. 34, near the South Dakota National Guard Armory, the South Dakota Women’s Prison, and the Riverside Cemetery. It was originally designed to have a men’s section, women’s section, juvenile detention center and a work-release area.

“We do not have a work-release program. Designs were for it, but shortly after construction, we precluded that program,” Johnson said. “Pretty much from day one since we opened, it is the overflow for female inmates. Usually there are more females than can fit in the female pod, so we use the work-release area.”

The county does have a 24/7 program, where people — who would otherwise be in the jail — instead come in twice a day at a designated time to “blow in a tube to prove they don’t have alcohol in their system,” Hipple said. “The program keeps people out of jail, and instead allows them to stay with their families and continue to hold down their jobs.”

“We have no plans on the horizon to upgrade or expand the jail itself. It’s always a constant — the daily struggles of running a large facility,” Johnson said.

“We have refinanced the municipal bonds — used to finance the original construction project — twice since then, and saved money each time” Hipple said. “The original bonds were sold in 2008, and essentially eight years of bond payments are left.”

The ground upon which the former jail once stood west of the courthouse is now green space.

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