At a crackerbarrel in Alexandria Saturday, an eager reader heard House Majority Leader Kent Peterson (R-19/Salem) refer to a proposal to spend a few hundred million dollars building a new prison. We have bills proposing $28 million for buying land and building a new community work center in Rapid City and $5.75 million to improve healthcare facilities and the Women’s Prison in Pierre (Senate Bill 32 and Senate Bill 33, both before Senate Appropriations Tuesday morning). The larger figures Representative Peterson ballparked in Alexandria appear to come from this statewide facility plan prepared by the DLR Group, which earned $323K to tell South Dakota it needs to spend $608 million over the next several years to replace the state penitentiary, centralize care for inmates with health issues, decentralize women’s incarceration with community work centers in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, and add a community work center for male inmates in Sioux Falls.
DLR Group projects over a 12% increase on our male and female inmate populations by 2041. The current occupational capacity of 4,002 is greater than the current inmate population of 3,261 and the high-end estimate of 2041 inmate population of 3,858; however, DLR Group says the Department of Corrections capacity estimate is “above what the consultant would recommend, based on industry best practices and recognized correction standards that would be applied in the planning and design of new facilities.” While South Dakota’s statewide prison system is operating at just over 81% of DOC’s recommended operational capacity, it’s operating at 118% of DLR’s recommended capacity of 2,775. The difference comes largely from DOC’s doubling up penitentiary inmates in cells designed for one occupant and similar increases in density beyond original design at other facilities.
To ease the crowding, DLR Group recommends putting fewer people in prison—oh, no wait, there’s no money in that.
To ease the crowding, DLR Group recommends building a new 1,372- to 1,516-bed prison somewhere near Sioux Falls, to take advantage of workforce availability and supporting community services. One possible site mentions is the state-owned West Farm site ten miles west of the current pen, out in the country on 264th Street. The state operated a transitional program for juvenile offenders at the West Farm until 2012; since 2013, the state has contracted with Sequel Youth and Family Services to provide youth correctional services at that site. The plan would include 72 beds for inmates with assisted living needs and 72 beds for inmates with mental and behavioral health issues, with space to double both of those specialized incarceration spaces. DLR says that total capacity could be scaled back if the state chooses to build a 200-bed low-medium security men’s prison in Rapid City.
Once this facility is complete, DLR Group recommends decommissioning the current state penitentiary; however, the plan envisions maintaining the Jameson Annex, updating the intake/release processing area, replacing the open courtyard with a gym and support space, and turning the vacated medical space into office space and gym toilets. DLR Group would also build a 300-bed men’s community work center on the current penitentiary campus, where the current recreeation/visiting building, root cellar, and maintenance building stand.
DLR Group recommends a 100-bed women’s community work centers in Sioux Falls and in Rapid City, both with potential to expand to 200 beds. These facilities would ease the crowding at the Pierre women’s prison and give inmates “greater opportunity to participate in more community related work activities” and help the women maintain connection with families and employers in those parts of the state. DLR Group recommends demolishing the old Pierre community work center and repurposing Unit E as a women’s community work center for 60 inmates after transferring women to the proposed Sioux Falls and Rapid City CWCs. Pierre would also get a new 250-bed minimum security prison building for women.
Yankton would get a new 200-bed men’s community work center or remodel of the existing CWC on the Human Services Center property.
Even though DLR Group acknowledges that staffing shortages at the Mike Durfee Prison in Springfield are exacerbated by its remote location, DLR Group does not recommend shutting that site down and transferring prisoners to more easily staffed sites in Sioux Falls or Rapid City. Instead, the consultants recommend a new 300-bed men’s housing unit at Springfield to replace the aging college dormitories that are currently housing inmates. DLR Group notes the dorms weren’t designed for prisoners. Those repurposed cells apparently still have the old dorm doors, which require guards patrolling the halls to open doors to check on prisoners, a significant safety hazard.
These projects and others recommended by DLR Group total $608,202,707. 56% of that cost would be the new thousand-plus-bed prison in Sioux Falls. The next most expensive items would be the 300-bed Springfield addition, the 250-bed Pierre addition, and the 200-bed men’s low-medium security unit in Rapid City, each costing over $40 million.
Most of the construction could take place without disrupting current Corrections operations. DLR Group says the new Sioux Falls penitentiary and the new prison house at Springfield could be finished by April 2027. The new community work centers for women in Sioux Falls and Rapid City and for men in Yankton could be open by November 2025.