Prison inmates in South Dakota who want to buy almost anything outside of their state-furnished three meals a day can order only from one store: the prison commissary. For years, the state Department of Corrections has contracted the management of inmate commissary orders and deliveries to private companies, which supply hundreds of items to inmates. Inmates may buy up to $25 in items a week through their state-provided tablets, using money earned from their inmate work assignments and any funds transferred to the inmate accounts by family members or friends. On Monday, the state’s Corrections Commission signed off on a plan for the DOC to take over management of the commissary program and its $3.5 million in annual sales, South Dakota Searchlight reports. The DOC would still need to contract with a supplier, according to the DOC’s proposed business plan. However, the operations and warehousing for commissary items would become the province of the prison system’s Pheasantland Industries. The corrections department's Brittni Skipper told commissioners that 11 states already manage their own commissaries, including Tennessee and Utah.
In South Dakota, a 5% cut of sales under the new system and an $85,000 annual lease payment from the supplier for the use of open warehouse space in Sioux Falls would translate into more than a quarter-million dollars of additional revenue each year, according to the business plan. The new commissary system would need three full-time Pheasantland employees to manage the warehouse, as well as 20-25 inmate laborers to manage orders and inventory. The commissary business plan notes that the number of warehouse jobs in the U.S. is growing and that inmates working in the commissary warehouse on the prison grounds would learn valuable job skills. Tje Bureau of Labor Statistics says the nation will need a million more warehouse workers a year for the next decade, and inmates trained by the DOC could be eligible. Commissioners voted unanimously to endorse the commissary plan. The DOC will soon release a request for proposals seeking a partner to act as a supplier, Skipper said, with a goal of having the DOC-run commissary system up and running by early 2024.