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Best Wishes to a Respected Colleague and Friend: Jeff Uttecht

February 28, 2024

By Lukas D’Ambrosio Communications Office

A group posing for a photo in their dress blues.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jeff Uttecht (middle) joined by prison leadership (left to right) Deputy Secretary Sean Murphy, Deputy Assistant Secretary Jo Wofford, Assistant Secretary Don Holbrook, Secretary Cheryl Strange, Deputy Assistant Secretary Eric Jackson, and Deputy Assistant Secretary James Key (Photo courtesy of Communications Office)

Jeff Uttecht's journey in the realm of corrections began in 1981 when he took on the role of a correctional officer in South Dakota. His unexpected career path unfolded after graduating from the University of South Dakota with majors in criminal justice and psychology. Originally aspiring to manage the grocery store he had worked at before college, Jeff had pivoted from his plan to get a business degree after being inspired by one of his college professors.

“I got out of college with my degrees and had no idea what to do for a living,” said Jeff. “I looked at what probation officers and parole officers made and went ‘oh this is not good.’ I eventually landed as a correctional officer at the South Dakota State Penitentiary and the rest was history.”

Jeff's dedication led him to climb the ranks within the correctional system in the Midwest. He held positions like Correctional Unit Manager at the Nebraska State Penitentiary and Corrections Unit Administrator at the Lincoln Correctional Center. Eventually, Jeff worked his way to becoming the Associate Warden at the Omaha Correctional Center and then later Deputy Warden at the Lincoln Correctional Center from 2000 to 2006.

In 2006, Jeff ventured to Washington, where he assumed the role of Superintendent at the Washington State Penitentiary until 2008 and then later at Coyote Ridge Correctional Center. His praiseworthy leadership propelled him to the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary in 2021. As he retires from this distinguished position, Jeff leaves behind a legacy of respect from colleagues and gratitude from the staff he supervised, acknowledging his role in helping others reach their full potential.

“Jeff is a collaborative leader who has emphasized the importance of teamwork and partnerships,” said Sean Murphy, Deputy Secretary. “He has always encouraged employees to work across teams and divisions to drive innovation and growth. Jeff sought to build strong relationships with other entities, which has helped DOC to expand its reach and influence.”

“Jeff’s commitment was set at a very high standard,” said Don Holbrook, Assistant Secretary for Men’s Prisons. “He has always had a balance for those around him with accountability and personal wellness for all. His leadership, friendship and passion will be missed but his impression left on all of us will be forever!”

Known for his legendary storytelling, Jeff's anecdotes became a hallmark of his presence. Jeff always seemed to have a story that fit seamlessly into any situation whether trying to support his staff or just strike up a conversation as a friend. After years in the industry, working with many of the same staff, some stories ended up making their rounds a few times.

“Did I ever tell you a story about’ were his famous last words,” said James Key, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Men’s Prisons. “The funniest part is that he never even gave you an opportunity to answer! He just went on ahead with his story regardless.”

While the Department of Corrections will undoubtedly miss his wisdom, there is joy in seeing him embark on a well-deserved retirement. The department will be thrilled to see him spend quality time with his family and pursue his passion for music, contributing to his band in Richland. Jeff, we will miss you.