Solem center women's prison

Although the latest cluster of COVID-19 cases in the state's prison system was found this week through mass testing at the prison in Springfield, the female inmates housed in Pierre make up 59% of the system's total cases found so far, although female inmates make up less than 14% of the total prison population, according to DOC figures released Friday, Oct. 16.

The Women's Prison in housed in the the Solem Public Safety Center in Pierre.

All work, education and training programs for inmates have been suspended for now at the South Dakota state prison in Springfield after 127 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 last week, according to prison spokesman Michael Winder.

In a news release Friday, Oct. 16, Winder said as part of the latest round of mass testing in the state’s Department of Corrections facilities across the state, 22 inmates at the Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield tested negative for COVID-19 and 127 tested positive in this week’s round of mass testing.

Those inmates who tested positive were isolated, according to Winder.

That brings the total positive tests for COVID-19 at the Springfield facility over this pandemic time to 156, including seven staff workers and 149 offenders, according to figures from Winder. Two inmate/offenders have recovered and four employees, so 150 COVID-19 cases remain active at the Durfee facility, including three employees and 147 offenders.

At all state prison facilities across South Dakota including the Women’s Prison in Pierre, 412 offenders have tested positive, 241 of them recovering as of Friday, Oct. 16, leaving 171 active cases of COVID-19. A total of 46 DOC employees have tested positive across the state, all but seven of them had recovered as of Friday.

Of the total of 412 cases of COVID-19 found among offenders/inmates in the state system so far this year, 241 of them, or 58.5%, have been found at the Women’s Prison facilities in Pierre, which include the prison itself, the Unit E and the Community Work Center, according to an analysis of DOC figures released Friday.

But women make up only 13.7% of the state prison system’s total offenders, or 457 of the system’s total of 3,3547 adult inmates as of the Sept. 30 tally posted by the DOC on its website.

A longtime guard at the Women’s Prison in Pierre told the Capital Journal recently he thinks a main reason for the apparent disparity in COVID-19 cases is that female prisoners tend to have more close social interaction than male prisoners.

The state pen in Sioux Falls with all men and with the highest security including death row as well as a work center in Sioux Falls, has seen only 22 positive tests for COVID-19 among inmates and five of them have recovered.

One reason for lower numbers in Sioux Falls likely is that the DOC has not done mass testing there yet.

“We conducted mass testing in Pierre (at the Women’s Prison) when the number of inmates in one of the housing units began showing symptoms, so inmates in that area were targeted for testing,” Winder told the Capital Journal on Friday, via email response to questions. “ It’s the same for the male facilities, which are now showing more symptoms.”

He said the Sioux Falls prison facilities have not had mass testing yet.

Meanwhile, only 10 active COVID-19 cases remain at the state Women’s Prison facilities in Pierre of the total of 249 inmates and employees who had tested positive for COVID-19 in three rounds of mass testing the past month. That includes seven inmates still positive and three employees.

Earlier this week, Hughes County Sheriff Darin Johnson announced the first two cases of COVID-19 found at the County Jail which is near the Women’s Prison in Pierre.

To see DOC figures, go online at https://doc.sd.gov/about/Coronavirus.aspx.

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