“We Want Phones” The Tablet Uprising at the South Dakota State Penitentiary

Recent events at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls have captured public attention, leading to an official investigation by state authorities. The South Dakota Attorney General, Marty Jackley, has taken a decisive stance, directing the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) to thoroughly examine two separate but consecutive incidents of disturbance within the prison walls. These incidents, marked by violence and unrest, highlight ongoing tensions and the critical challenges facing the state’s correctional system.

The heart of the disturbances can be traced back to March 8, when tablet, texting, and email services for inmates were indefinitely suspended. This action, part of a broader investigation, seems to have been the catalyst for the unrest. Inmates, voicing their frustrations, were reported chanting “We want phones,” a poignant reminder of the importance of communication links with the outside world for those incarcerated. The scenes described from within the penitentiary walls — of yelling, screaming, and banging — paint a vivid picture of the chaos that ensued.

During these troubling events, at least one correctional officer was assaulted, underscoring the risks faced by staff within such volatile environments. DOC Secretary Kellie Wasko confirmed these assaults, emphasizing the danger and unpredictability inherent in managing a state penitentiary. Despite these challenges, the Department of Corrections has successfully restored order, though the full extent of injuries and the specifics of the incidents remain under close investigation.

Attorney General Jackley’s response to these events has been firm, indicating a zero-tolerance policy towards violence in the state’s correctional facilities. His commitment to prosecuting those responsible for harm to correctional officers, other inmates, or state property to the fullest extent of the law is a clear signal of the seriousness with which these incidents are being taken. This stance not only seeks to ensure justice but also to deter future disturbances by setting a precedent for the consequences of such actions.

The implications of these incidents are significant, raising questions about the conditions within the South Dakota State Penitentiary and the broader issues within the criminal justice system. The indefinite suspension of communication services, while part of an ongoing investigation, highlights the delicate balance between maintaining security and ensuring the rights and well-being of inmates. These events serve as a stark reminder of the complexities involved in managing state correctional facilities, the need for effective communication channels, and the importance of addressing the underlying issues that contribute to such unrest.

As the DCI continues its investigation, many will be watching closely for the outcomes and any changes that might be implemented to prevent future disturbances. The situation at the South Dakota State Penitentiary is a critical moment for the state’s correctional system, offering an opportunity for reflection, reform, and, hopefully, improvement in how we manage and rehabilitate those within the prison system. However, with our state’s current leadership it’s difficult to see a path forward for reform.

Here at SDDP we’ve been getting messages from folks who claim to be family members of people on the inside.

To safeguard individuals against potential retaliatory actions, I have amalgamated their narratives and expunged any identifiable details.

In recent developments, concerns have been raised about the treatment of inmates in state-level correctional facilities across a particular state. According to reports from concerned individuals, there has been a significant disruption in the communication channels between inmates and their families, as well as with their legal representatives. This disruption stems from the state’s decision to deactivate the tablets. These devices, serve multiple purposes, including facilitating educational courses, enabling communication with loved ones, and providing a platform for video visits. The abrupt cessation of these services, without prior notice or explanation, has raised questions about the reimbursement of the funds spent by inmates on these now-inaccessible services.

The issue has reportedly persisted for more than two weeks, affecting a wide range of inmates, many of whom rely on these tablets for their intended, non-malicious uses. The decision to cut off these communication lines has not only impacted the inmates’ ability to stay connected with their external support networks but has also raised concerns about their access to legal counsel.

In response to inquiries about alternative communication methods, it has been indicated that the availability of traditional wall phones is severely limited, both in functionality and access. Reports suggest that these phones are often in disrepair and are insufficient to meet the needs of the inmate population, leading to significant communication barriers.

This situation highlights broader issues within the state’s correctional system, including the need for transparent policies regarding inmate communications and the fair treatment of all incarcerated individuals. Concerned parties are calling for a review of these policies and for the state to address the financial and emotional impact on inmates and their families caused by these abrupt changes.

“We Want Phones” The Tablet Uprising at the South Dakota State Penitentiary

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