New policies implemented to keep contraband out of South Dakota State Penitentiary

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Warden Darin Young said the state's Department of Corrections has new policies in place to keep drugs out of the prisons across the state.

"We've had some issues with contraband trying to be mailed in, snuck in, smuggled in," Warden Darin Young said with the South Dakota State Penitentiary. "And so we've had to take some hard looks."

Some of the new policies have involved tax payers' dollars. Others have not. Warden Young has worked for the Department of Corrections for more than 25 years. Drugs have always been a problem.

"The drugs that are available today on the streets are much more dangerous," he said. "Trying to find some of that contraband that comes in is very difficult."

It can be difficult because it can be in liquid form, specks or powders.

"It takes things like dogs that can find those kinds of specks. It takes technology that can search the different areas, and it takes staff as following procedures," Warden Young said.

These are all new steps the DOC has taken to keep out contraband.

The staff is taking more precautions in the mailroom, like wearing gloves.

"Make sure they're not affected by say Fentanyl or coming in contact with Methamphetamines," Steven Baker said, who is the mailroom supervisor at the state pen.

It now takes more time to go through letters, newspapers and magazines in the mailroom because there are more restrictions. About 15 pieces of mail get rejected per day because they're not following procedures.

Every letter has to have a return address with a first and last name. No colored paper is accepted, only white paper. Greeting cards aren't allowed any more. Postcards aren't even accepted either.

"The photographs are on postcards, so nationwide, other facilities have found they use those postcards to put Methamphetamines in to melt them into there," Baker said.

One of the biggest changes for kids with a loved one in prison is they can't use markers or crayons when drawing pictures.

"We try to find other ways to still accommodate that," Warden Young said.

If a child draws a picture, they can take a photo of it and send it to an inmate on their tablet.

"They certainly go through our security screening," he said.

Every inmate has this electronic device. It was not paid for by tax dollars. A vendor provides them and the inmates pay for the services, like messaging, calls, music or books. The DOC saves money with these by putting the inmate's legal access on it instead of printing books. Everything is heavily secured and reviewed on the electronic device.

"We have a closed circuit here, so they don't have access to surf around and look around, like you would if you were on the streets," the Warden said.

One of the more expensive new policies is the body scanner. There are five throughout the state, each costing about $162,000.

"Throughout the nation, people are dying. Fentanyl is crazy, so we want to do everything we can," Clifton Fantroy said, who is the director of security with the Department of Corrections.

Fantroy said saving a life justifies that cost. Before the scanners, inmates were strip-searched and pat down.

"However, strip-search isn't that effective because you can't observe the body cavity areas," Fantroy said.

About 1,500 to 1,600 inmates are body scanned at random per month. An inmate can be scanned a total of up to 1,000 times per year. One of the newest policies implemented is a K9 team. Every visitor that comes in to the State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls gets checked by a K9 to make sure they're not bringing in any drugs.

There are five total handlers throughout South Dakota. Two dogs check visitors. Three other dogs search inside cells. One of the K9 handlers said it really depends on what they find when conducting searches.

"Tobacco, more often. We're looking at maybe once a week in different areas," Steve Pederson said, who is a K9 handler. "But the narcotics issue, we don't have a lot of issues there."

Warden Young, Fantroy and Baker have all been with the DOC for more than 25 years. Pederson has been with the DOC for more than 20 years. All four men say the more dangerous drugs have increased over the years. That's why these new policies are necessary.

Even though there are policies in place, drugs can still come in to the DOC facilities a variety of ways, like through a staff member, a vendor, or even accidentally through items brought in. Each DOC worker said it's rare they find contraband in their role. The last time the mailroom found something was a couple of months ago.