SPRINGFIELD — They may be serving their sentences, but inmates at Mike Durfee State Prison are not just putting in their time.
The medium-security facility, which can hold about 1,200 prisoners, provides opportunities for inmates to learn or improve job skills, said Warden Bob Dooley.
"Seventy-six percent of our inmates work or go to class," Dooley said.
The former college campus provides the setting for both academic courses and vocational activities. Literacy, adult basic education and GED classes are offered. Vocational classes are offered in welding, machine tool, auto body, business and occupations, landscape/horticulture and building/custodial.
A tour of the prison grounds reveals a buzz of inmate activity through Pheasantland Industries, the prison work program.
In one area, supervisor Pat Cihak showed the work done in the garment shop and screen print shop. The shop can print logos on T-shirts, sweatshirts, banners, tote bags and caps. The shop produces a full line of inmate clothing. The inmates also screen T-shirts and other clothing for schools and state agencies.
"We do a lot of business with the Bon Homme schools," Cihak said, pointing to screened items. "We also have the safety green T-shirts for the DOT (Department of Transportation)."
In an outdoor work area, inmates produce cabin structures for Game, Fish and Parks. One order called for about 50 cabins for Custer State Park.
The north end of the prison grounds contains construction that is part of the Governor's Affordable Housing Program.
"We started this in May 1996, during Gov. (William) Janklow's years, so we have been doing this for 11 years," said Teresa Sterrett, moving coordinator with the South Dakota Housing Development Authority.
During that time, the program has sold 1,620 homes and delivered 1,535, Sterrett said. Another 71 homes have been built for community daycare centers, she said.
The prison has 59 building sites for housing construction, with 130 inmates working full-time Monday through Friday, she said. The program gives inmates real-world experience, complete with a job application and time clock, she said.
The eligibility requirements and the purchase price have changed over the years, Sterrett said. However, the program continues to provide quality homes at affordable prices, she said. According to a brochure, a house measures 24 feet by 42 feet with two bedrooms and one bathroom.
Besides individuals, eligible buyers include housing authorities, non-profit organizations, economic development corporations and local chambers of commerce planning to sell to qualified purchasers, the brochure said.
Last year, the homes were priced at $33,000 delivered, and the buyer had the house wired and plumbed, Sterrett said. According to the brochure, the price includes the house, transportation to the lot and placement of the house on the foundation or basement.
The brochure said other costs to be considered include the lot; foundation or basement; state, city and excise taxes; water and utility hook-ups; floor covering and appliances. Other considerations include a survey, sidewalks, driveway, curb and gutter.
"We are not involved with the floor coverings and appliances," Sterrett said. "We keep options to a minimum, because the inmates learn by repetition. After they are finished here (at Springfield), they can then get plumbing and electrical licenses."
Other prison industries focus on furniture restoration, automotive work and welding. One supervisor said inmates weld and build parts for Wilson Trailers in Yankton.
In another area, inmates can perform repairs on a limited number of private vehicles, with one vehicle at the time originating from Nome, Alaska. While the prison charges a fee for repairs, the valuable experience gained by inmates working on the cars cannot be measured in dollars and cents, one supervisor said.
Work is not limited to cars. Inmates in the bike shop completed work on 1,168 bikes last year, along with about 500 wheelchairs.
The new barracks, dining hall and laundry at Mike Durfee State Prison have created a new demand for inmates to handle the needs of as many as 400 additional prisoners.
Muriel Namminga oversees the laundry operation. Before construction of the new facilities, the Springfield laundry was taken four days a week to the Human Services Center and trusty unit in Yankton, Dooley said.
"Each day, we wash 3,000 pounds of laundry. Each washing machine holds 180 pounds and uses 190-degree water," Namminga said.
The laundry is separated so a prisoner keeps his same clothing and underwear rather than get another inmate's items, Namminga explained.
Not all prisoner activity focuses on vocational courses or work. Inmates can take academics as part of their program while at Springfield. At the computer lab, inmates can take courses for credit, using self-study, independent study, distance learning or mail.
In a nearby area, Kelli Tjeerdsma works with inmates microfilming documents for long-term preservation. Tjeerdsma works with the microfilm unit of the South Dakota State Historical Society.
The inmates' microfilm work includes the state's newspapers, historical documents, census cards, vital records and work for state agencies, Tjeerdsma said. Some of the microfilmed items date back to the 1800s. The side of one box says it contains material from the Dakota Territory District Court clerk of courts from Yankton County.
Not all of the work is historical, Tjeerdsma said, as one of the projects alphabetizes voter-registration lists. While such a task can be tedious, the inmates seem to enjoy the work and do a good job, she said.
New technology has helped in getting all of the work done, but it still takes elbow grease, Tjeerdsma said.
"We have 16 inmates and two staff members, one besides myself," she said. "There's quite a demand. We have seen twice the work during just the last two years."
No matter what course of work they perform, the inmates benefit in the long run, Dooley said.
Not only are inmates kept busy and productive during their stay, but they also are learning valuable skills for the future, the warden said.
Most Springfield inmates eventually re-enter society and need to prepare for life on the outside, Dooley said. "We work with rehabilitation, and this helps them when they leave prison," he said.