How offenders are placed within the state penitentiary

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It's hard not to think of how young offenders will take to prison life -- will they be easy targets and how they will survive?

A nearly 30-day orientation at the state penitentiary determines where offenders should be placed within the system. It's a process that not only protects staff but also the inmates.

Prison is a home away from home for offenders. The sounds of doors shutting and locking will become an all too familiar sound.

The guy standing next to you -- what is he in for, murder? The state penitentiary can be an intimidating place, especially for first-time offenders.

Chad Straatemeyer is the Risk Reduction Manager at the South Dakota State Penitentiary. Protecting staff and inmates is his priority and it st arts when offenders walk inside the doors.

"When they come into prison, we don't know who they are or what they are. By the time they leave the orientation process, we've got a very good picture of what they present to the risk, to the system, as well as to the community at large when they get released. And we try to respond as best we can," said Straatemeyer.

Case managers delve into offenders' lives the first 30 days in prison to determine where they should be placed within the system. Assessments are given to identify personality types and decide the population where they would fit best.

"So those that are more vulnerable are housed with other people of similar characteristics. If people are more aggressive and confrontational -- they are housed together," said Straatemeyer.

Deputy Warden Troy Ponto shows us where inmates are housed during orientation until they are transferred to serve their sentence. He says staff can tell which offenders are afraid when they arrive.

"I think there's a little bit of nervousness. I think there's a title bit of anxiety that goes along with that. But I think that's one of the things that we do well here is we have context with each and every one of our inmates to make sure there's no questions or concerns that they have when they first arrive," said Deputy Warden Ponto.

With placement in the prison system -- it's not so much about age as it is maturity.