Onward Yankton Proposal: Reclaim Federal Prison Camp as Community College?

Onward Yankton is at the halfway point of its 100-day quest for the next great idea for our first capital city. Citizens have already submitted dozens of interesting ideas, including suggestions to build a STEM high school and Christian school. Al Koliner would like to resurrect Yankton College with a few classrooms in the Mead Building.

Roger C. Smith wants to think even bigger: he says we should get the feds to shut down the Yankton Federal Prison Camp and hand the campus back to the community for use as a community college. I don’t see Smith’s idea on Onward Yankton yet, but here’s the full proposal as submitted over the holiday to Dakota Free Press:

In 1946/47 Yankton’s own US Senator Chan Gurney and the late, great citizen Carl Youngworth asked the US Government to help with the Nash Gym project at Yankton College. Now almost 70 years later,Yankton is going to ask the US Government to give Yankton College back to Yankton.

One of the worst things to happen in Yankton and to Yankton in my lifetime was the closing of YC in 1984. My idea is to organize a group of Yanktonians to ask the Bureau of Prisons to turn over Yankton College to Yankton citizens and remake it into a Junior College/VoTech Center/Community College. We would gather a group consisting of, but not limited to, City officials, county officials, R-Tech board members, Yankton College board members, etc., and with our 3 South Dakota Congress members, go to the Bureau of Prisons and ask for YC to be back in the hands of Yankton, where it belongs. The Bureau of Prisons is not building nor acquiring YC type facilities any longer, and I firmly believe they would like to rid themselves of the YC operation. They just need to be asked! There would be, or should be, no cost to Yankton for this transfer. Once YC is back, we would develop and educate and train our own skilled employees for Yankton and the surrounding area. Funds would be, and are, available through State and Federal grants, scholarships, reasonable tuition and fees, and other sources. Students would be in town spending money locally vs. prisoners stuck on campus not spending money with local merchants. The YC infrastructure is in tremendous condition; no money would need to be spent on improvements. Nash Gym would once again play a significant role in Yankton’s athletic facility inventory.

Will the Bureau of Prisons give YC back to Yankton? They will sooner than later. Technology is available now that does not require “campuses” to be used for housing prisoners. Federal drug laws are changing. We need to ask now and plant the seed now! We have a chance to do something very good and very big in Yankton, and for Yankton, that years from now will cause people to ask “Why did that take so long?”.

Respectfully submitted,

Roger Smith [e-mail to Dakota Free Press, 2015.05.25]

Smith apparently doesn’t feel bad about denying prisoners one of the nicest places in the country to do time. But as Smith notes, a community college or vo-tech would reinforce the local economy in short-term and long-term ways that a prison can’t. A school brings to town students who will buy groceries, rent apartments, and fill jobs while they take classes. When those students graduate, they provide skilled labor to meet the workforce needs that are as significant in Yankton as anywhere else in South Dakota.

Another economic boost would come from employment at the new Yankton College itself. One would think that a new Yankton College could employ at least as many instructors as the prison camp employs guards. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, correctional officers and jailers make an annual mean wage of $34,660; postsecondary vocational instructors average $49,670. Vo-tech teachers might also be easier to recruit to Yankton: BLS says South Dakota’s average vo-tech teacher pay is 93% of the national average for that field; South Dakota prison guards get just 77% of their job’s national average.

Governor Daugaard wants more students to pursue vocational education; should Yankton respond by creating another two-year institution of learning?


25 Responses to Onward Yankton Proposal: Reclaim Federal Prison Camp as Community College?

  1. Wonderful idea! I have always been a proponent of building schools over prisons. But I’m afraid there is little indication that the Feds are anxious to get rid of the facility. Yankton FPC is always at capacity now and even if they find better ways of monitoring non-violent criminals, the demand for custody is still there and will be as long as we send people to Congress who want to put people in prison.

    Second point: We should remember how Yankton College became a prison. They went broke.

    One has to wonder if it would make more sense to support the existing facility – Mount Marty – in expanding its role to fill the needs of the community first.

    Please don’t misunderstand my points here. I am 100% for more education and vocational training! But I am also all-in on pragmatism.

  2. Porter Lansing

    Notable alumni
    Lyle Alzado, former professional American football defensive end of the National Football League
    Gabor Boritt, the Robert Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies and Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College
    Joseph H. Bottum, 27th Lieutenant Governor of South Dakota and a member of the United States Senate
    Amanda Clement (1888–1971), first paid female umpire
    Riley Gardner, American psychologist
    Les Goodman, former running back in the National Football League
    Alvin Hansen, professor of economics at Harvard
    Michael Jaffe, American TV and film producer
    Nancy Lenehan, American actress
    Ruben Mendoza, strength and conditioning coach and a former guard in the National Football League
    Earl Rose, Dallas County medical examiner at the time of the assassination of John F. Kennedy
    Dean Wink, former defensive end in the National Football League and member of the South Dakota House of Representatives
    “Bring back Yankton College.”

  3. Bill Fleming

    LOL, Porter, don’t forget Bill Fleming and Charlie Hoffman. We’re both legends in our own minds. ;-)

  4. Porter Lansing

    Every man a Greyhound.

  5. The old Yankton college campus now the Federal Prison Work camp is an absolute gem with those beautiful historic buildings and the observatory. It is surrounded by a cool old neighborhood too and Yankton is nice as it is and being by the Missouri is a plus too. As much as I’d love to see a college or tech return there I just feel it is realistic.

    Yankton College struggled for years prior to closure. Old Southern State later USD/S in Springfield closed 6 months to a year before. Remember the Pointers?

    It’s hard enough for the private schools in South Dakota to compete for enrollment given the additional tuition and programs they need to spend money on to remain competitive. I’m thinking Mount Marty and Presentation College. Augie and U of Sioux Falls have some advantages being in Sioux Falls and are well funded.

    South Dakota has a hard enough time funding education and if your thinking tech schools Mitchell Tech and excellent and growing school isn’t that far from Yankton nor is South East Tech in Sioux Falls.

    Even old Southern State/USD/S in Springfield was a nice campus with well maintained buildings before it was turned into Mike Durfee Prison and it really hurt that town. Springfield has a great location being up on the bluffs of the Missouri overlooking the Nebraska River Bluffs but neither unfortunately both colleges closed. It’s the past.

  6. Good questions, Lynn! The old YC/prison location is a beautiful part of town. You’d think we’d put the prison out on the outskirts and the high school in the middle of things… but I guess that’s just my warped sense of community planning at work.

    But do we really need another campus? Are three East-River vo-techs enough to serve our communities? Could a separate vo-tech offer educational advantages that maybe a mission expansion at Mount Marty could not, or that Mitchell doesn’t already satisfy?

    What’s the nearest community college or vo-tech across the border in Nebraska?

  7. Missed a few words in my reply above hoping Bob or Larry would make corrections for me. :)

    Unfortunately I do not see how it would be realistic for a college or tech school to be located at the old Yankton College or even the old Human Services Campus. Look at our rank in teacher/professor pay.

    Unless it became Sanford Historic Victorian Liberal Arts College but I’m not sure Denny would have enough funds or in a trust to keep it sustainable for the long term. It would have to compete with Carlton College and St. Olaf’s in Northfield, Mn

  8. larry kurtz

    What about the Bill Janklow School of Headbusting and Enhanced Interrogation Techniques? That has a nice ring to it.

  9. larry kurtz

    There could be majors in sexual intimidation and in extortion for political gain.

  10. Larry are you talking about a college to teach how to get away with crime and be very lucrative in the place of the Federal Prison Work Camp. Rehabilitation to making crime pay.

    Sounds like a Star Trek alternative universe episode. All for the Empire! Ferengi rules of acquisition?

  11. larry kurtz

    Sure: a repo major with classes in civil forfeiture with labs in harassing telephone calls using Marty Jackley’s voice. Maybe Joop would become visiting lecturer on how to buy and marry a prostitute then pocket $120 million.

    After being convicted of federal racketeering Mike Rounds and Joel Arends could do community service telling their stories.

  12. Bob Newland

    The Larry Long School of Hemp Farming!

  13. larry kurtz

    Yeah, Bob: or the Ted Klaudt School of Homemaking, maybe have the Sons of Silence do meth making seminars.

  14. Andrew Pietrus

    My dad was Lyle Alzado’s roommate at YC… :-) Attended on wrestling scholarship.

  15. It should be noted that there is still quite a lot of higher education going on at the old Yankton College campus. Just today I spoke to a writing class there, something I do a few times a year (business or writing classes.) A curriculum is put together by Mount Marty College. There is an especially strong horticulture program, because the big and beautiful campus is a perfect laboratory for that. And there’s a strong wood-working shop as well. I’ve not heard that the feds had a concern about lack of need for the campus as drug sentencing changes, but who can say. The prison camp does provide a lot of very good-paying jobs in town.

  16. Deb Geelsdottir

    I played basketball against the Greyhounds in Nash in the 70s. There were places in the wooden floor that had holes in them. I was told that was from the Shrine Circus pounding in tent pegs. Really.

    We (NSC) used to go to the southeast corner for a long weekend and play YC, Mount Marty, and the Pointers. That was a lot of basketball, but we were “only women” and Clark Swisher didn’t have to spend money on us because it was pre-Title IX, and he wanted it all to go to his boys. (We won all those games.)

  17. Porter Lansing

    … nice, Ms. Geelsdottir :)

  18. Roger Elgersma

    I recently read of small four year schools going broke and a lot more, not all of them, are having financial problems since tuition going up, state aid going down is a national trend. I like education as well but need the right timing to get a good start rather than struggling and failing. Yankton already has some education so would not make a real city changer. Not sure of the right idea but there probably is a good one that would give Yankton something it does not already have.

  19. Deb Geelsdottir

    Porter, I appreciate your recitation of distinguished alumni too. The only one I was aware of was Alzado. As a fan of the Raiders since the founding of the AFL, I have always liked Alzado. Now I know more about YC.

    Speaking of old SD colleges, which one was General Beadle? Was that Huron or Madison? Other than Southern, Yankton and Huron, what other colleges once populated SD?

  20. Michael Schumacher

    Corey, in answer to hour question, Northeast Community College is a 5000 student CC about an hour away in Norfolk. That puts 3 Community Colleges within 90 minutes of Yankton.

  21. 5,000 students? Wow! Any idea, Michael, how many come from Yankton and other nearby South Dakota towns?

    Three community colleges within 90 miles—does that leave room in the market for another entrant?

  22. Even if the Feds returned the campus to Yankton, I am unclear as to who would fund this tech school/community college. It seems to me that one of the issues with getting people to move to Yankton is the lack of low paying jobs. Fed salaries are far more than anything offered locally. Bad news is that those jobs don’t always go to locals. But they strengthen the economy. Maybe the answer is to bring in more Federal opportunities. And if, somehow, this idea saw the light of day, it may be a better idea to create a true community college. In the Maryland and Virginia systems, there are admission agreements with state schools. If you attend for two years and keep a high GPA, admission is guaranteed into its state schools. However, the reason people choose community college is a lower price with equal educational opportunities. That only seems possible if a community college is a part of the state system. In any case, the focus really needs to be on bringing folks and opportunities to Yankton, not sending them away. It disturbs me that many of these ideas intend to close off Yankton to outsiders. Find a way to bring those jobs that pay a good living wage back to the community and you will bring Yankton’s people home again!

  23. Porter Lansing

    ENOUGH FROM THE PLANET NEGATRON! Imagine how many Junior and Community Colleges will be needed when Liberals invest the worthless war dollars wasted by conservatives. It’s called the Earned Education Act and it’s more than doable under the next Clinton Peace Dividend. The Dividend wiped out the budgetary shortfalls last time and it’ll be fully directed at investing in our kids this time. Imagine the teaching jobs, the ancillary jobs, the economic stimulus to towns that surround every campus and the increased $income$ of a generation lifted by liberal thinking and progress. A two year education provided for any student with a proper grade point. AND don’t fall for the “squirrel call” by conservatives who claim we’re in a debt crisis. USA IS NOT IN A DEBT CRISIS! America is in debt only 7.6% of our total worth (according to this quarter’s balance sheet). That’s lower than any large corporation and almost all households that own property. BUT, ladies and gentlemen … this time don’t let Sodak get a decade behind the curve. Planning is painless and expectation will become nuts & bolts when the Clinton Peace Dividend starts to invest. Southeast South Dakota will be an education mecca marveled at and emulated nationwide. BE PROUD LIBERALS … good times are comin’

  24. Instead of trying to compete with all the surrounding community colleges and universities for small pieces of already allocated pie, Yankton should be the first to start baking a new pie, with dibs on all the good parts!

    From Onward Yankton…

    The nation’s current electrical infrastructure is aging and growing more obsolete by the day. It’s inefficiencies do the environment irreparable harms while economic costs people and cities billions of dollars annually. The next Big Idea for Yankton is to get out in front of the future of electricity and become the epicenter of the Smart Grid (r)evolution. The Smart Grid is essentially how we would build the entire power system in the United States today if we didn’t already have the aforementioned cumbersome, antiquated infrastructure in place. The “smart grid” is basically a term used to describe a next-generation power system that is generally identified by the increased use of information technology and communications in the generation, delivery and consumption of electrical energy. Smart meters are installed in place of current electrical meters which allow both users and electrical companies to better monitor use in order to prevent shortages/outages as well as price fluctuations. The price savings and increased ability to provide quality services alone would be a draw to families and businesses alike. With the multitude of renewable energy sources some with infrastructure already established, Yankton would be a perfect candidate for the installation of a smart grid. I have provided a link to an article discussing the infinite possibilities and benefits of simply installing a Smart Grid, which I think would be worthy of merit for the Big Idea itself, had there not been a better opportunity to not only build a Smart Grid, but to be the place from were all future smart grids are learned to be built, and parts are manufactured!

    Beyond being a good idea, the Smart Grid is guaranteed to be the next giant American Infrastructure project, from coast to coast the grid NEEDS to be replaced. Mount Marty College could easily pursue grants and industry experts to be one of the first colleges in America to offer specialized degrees in Smart Grid technology education. With the ability to test wind, solar, water, etc there is all of the in the field learning a college specialty like that could ask for. Incentives could be given (although might not be necessary with the College’s specialty providing a natural landing spot) for companies that produce the necessary materials to eventually implement this technology all over the world. The building of a Smart Grid and offer of specialized smart grid education program and business incentives would position Yankton at the epicenter of a global project of incomprehendable magnitude.

  25. I like the sounds of the whole idea, however I think that there needs to be lots of studies done before this could ever be realistic plan. How much money does FPC Yankton bring to the community? First the employees, living and spending in the community. There are over 110 full time staff and contract employees currently working there. The amount of utilities that the government pays to keep this place open. The amount it would cost to bring a tech school up to date with equipment and technology to compete with other school. The buildings on the ground are so old, would it be cheaper to build new, than to try retrofit old buildings?
    It is mentioned that students would bring in more money for Yankton. Does anyone know how much money 700+ inmates at prison year around stimulates local economy? Of course these inmates are not able to go out and spend money they have at local businesses, however many of the commissary items they buy, and food they are served in chow hall is bought from local vendors. The Medical staff at the prison handle many of the needs of the inmates, but they also send inmates out to local medical facilities for specialty care.
    Also, the inmates are here are from all over the U.S., they are allowed visits every weekend. The amount of visitors that come to Yankton every weekend and Holidays need hotels, food, and entertainment. I believe that Yankton would defiantly feel the impact if this steady stream of visitors were no longer coming to community.
    Times and education have defiantly changed over the years. Colleges are not making money by having dorms, classrooms, and sports programs. They are making their money with online education. They are charging the same tuition for students that can take classes from the comforts of their own homes, rather than providing them classrooms that need to be heated, Air conditioned, and maintained for much higher cost.