9 Women Escape from Work Release Facility in South Dakota to Avoid COVID-19 Exposure

9 Women Escape from Work Release Facility in South Dakota to Avoid COVID-19 Exposure

Pierre Community Work Center, Pierre, South Dakota
March 24, 2020

Nine prisoners housed at the Pierre Community Work Center in South Dakota walked out of the facility without permission after another prisoner there tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a press release by the South Dakota Department of Corrections, the prisoners escaped “by exiting an exterior door.”

The Pierre facility “houses minimum-security inmates on work release and community service status, as well as parolees in the Community Transition Program” according to the South Dakota Department of Corrections website.

The prisoners, all of whom were serving short sentences for non-violent or low-level offenses, walked away from the facility hours after Kim Malsam-Rysdon, the secretary of the Department of Health of South Dakota, announced that a prisoner at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19.

Although a department of corrections press release originally stated that only 8 women had escaped from the facility, it was later announced by Rapid City Journal that a ninth prisoner had also escaped and was booked into the county jail shortly thereafter.

The escapes come amidst growing concern across the world about the fate of incarcerated people during the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. On Wednesday, U.N. High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet called for countries to reduce their prison populations as much as possible, stating “physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible.”

The day of the escape, Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, confirmed that the nine escapees were all from the same unit as a woman who tested positive for COVID-19. Also on the day of the escape, Wanda Markland, the warden of the South Dakota Women’s Prison, resigned abruptly.

At the time of the escape, other jails and prisons around the country had already begun releasing hundreds of low level offenders and detainees to reduce the risk of outbreak in the close quarters of carceral environments.

A day after the escape, 2 of the escapees had still not been captured. The final escapee was eventually captured almost 5 months later, on August 18, 2020.


Coronavirus: Confirmed case of COVID-19 at S.D. women’s prison“, Argus Leader, March 23, 2020.

“PCWC Walkaways”, South Dakota Department of Corrections, Press Release, March 24, 2020.

“Inmates Three in Custody”, South Dakota Department of Corrections, Press Release, March 24, 2020.

“Three Additional Inmates in Custody,” South Dakota Department of Corrections, Press Release, March 25, 2020.

9 inmates escape from South Dakota jail where there was a positive coronavirus test“, NBC News, March 24, 2020, updated March 25, 2020.

One of nine escaped state inmates booked into county jail after possible COVID-19 exposure“, Rapid City Journal, March 24, 2020.

South Dakota warden resigns after COVID-19 infection, escape“, KOTA TV, March 26, 2020.

Last of nine inmates who escaped from women’s prison after COVID-19 case arrested in Sioux Falls“, Argus Leader, August 19, 2020.

Article published: 3/26/20. Updated 4/8/2020. Updated 9/10/2020
Header photo source: Keloland.com