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Replacing “Penitentiary” with “Correctional Facility” Bugs Jim Bolin. Why?

Senate Bill 52, which Senator Helene Duhamel (R-32/Rapid City) deems a “true clean-up bill”, barreled through the Senate this week with little discussion and a 33–1 vote. The only nay on the Senate floor came from Senator Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton), who made no remarks explaining his objection.

I’d like to think Senator Bolin recognizes SB 52’s violation of the single-subject rule and was making a stand for law and principle. USD Professor Emeritus Michael Card agrees with me that SB 52 may try to do more than the constitution allows:

One of the concerns is if SB52 possibly violates the single-subject rule:

“One section of the bill that didn’t seem to fit that, and it dealt with the reimbursement of Sheriffs,” said Card [Beth Warden, “Senate Bill 52: Transferring Authority at South Dakota State Prisons,” KSFY, 2023.01.21].

Or maybe Bolin was protesting the fact that the Senate is acting swiftly on a mostly style-and-form corrections bill that will do nothing to resolve the ongoing staffing and safety crisis at the state penitentiary, where guards are often working mandatory 16-hour shifts with little notice.

But no—it appears Senator Bolin is just playing word games:

Senator Jim Bolin of Canton says he prefers to keep the term Penitentiary rather than State Correctional Facility [Warden, 2023.01.21].

Bolin does not explain the basis of his semantic objection (because his Heavens forfend that he have to explain himself to the tedious people). But I can see why a Republican legislator might prefer to call our prisons penitentiaries rather than correctional facilities. The two terms emphasize different actors. Penitentiary focuses on the penitent, the inmate who should be showing sorrow, seeking forgiveness, and doing penance for having done wrong. As word and institution, penitentiary has Christian roots that Senator Bolin surely loves:

The reformers who built the model institutions of the early nineteenth century called them penitentiaries, to compel penitence. They drew from Christian traditions—Quaker tenets of nonviolence, Catholic and Calvinist varieties of asceticism and moral rigor—and they often represented the cell as a place of spiritual rebirth. As a precondition for that resurrection, they led convicts through mortifying processes including “civil death,” a loss of legal personhood with origins in European monasticism. The Philadelphia reformer Benjamin Rush quoted scripture in describing the rehabilitated convict as a man who “was lost and is found—was dead and is alive” [Caleb Smith, answering questions about his book The Prison and the American Imagination, in “Prison as Resurrection,” Religion Dispatches, 2009.10.23].

Penitentiary places the onus of reform on the inmate. Correctional facility includes us jailers (we elect the legislators and judges; we serve on the juries; we send the bad guys to prison) in the action. Correctional facility declares our shared duty to correct what has gone wrong and restore the inmate’s ability to participate in society.

Penitentiary says, “Repent, sinner!” Correctional facility says, “Here, let us help.” So yeah, I can see why Senator Bolin might not like replacing the word penitentiary with correctional facility in our state prison statutes.


  1. grudznick 2023-01-22 09:10

    I am surprised you bring not up the 3rd leg of that milk stool, Mr. H.
    and Punish.

    Another applicable term would be Penal Institutions.

  2. Richard Schriever 2023-01-22 09:25

    Prison – a place where things are imprisoned; isolated; insulated – held against change and influence – either inward or outward. As in the prison of grudz’ mind.

  3. Donald Pay 2023-01-22 09:39

    I’m not sure it makes a whole lot of difference to the inmates (or do we call them “correctees” now) what you call it. “Cleanup bills” are often violate the single subject rule because there is usually a lot to cleanup in the law books. It’s appropriate that the Legislature violate the law when dealing with a bill on the Building Formerly Known As The Penitentiary, don’t ya think. Just throw it all together in one bill, stir, and ten years later you can clean up what you just passed.

  4. buckobear 2023-01-22 09:49

    Funny that the prisoner population is never included in the unemployment figures.

  5. larry kurtz 2023-01-22 13:47

    A penitentiary would definitely correct most for not choosing the lethal injection or shotgun and stick instead.

  6. Curt 2023-01-22 14:03

    My objection to the semantic change is that “Corrections” assumes active involvement by the State in attempting to reform and rehabilitate those men and women we have chosen to incarcerate. It appears to me that the trend in SD is for the State to make less effort with each passing year (and legislative session) toward “corrections”. We might as well just call it what it is – prison.

  7. All Mammal 2023-01-22 15:35

    I agree with Curt on the incorrect semantics implied with the word corrections. I would also like to add the issue of incarcerating folks for the crime of being an illegal alien. For one, how is a person ever illegal by being born in the wrong place? And How can you possibly correct where you were born? Corrections entails reform. Venezuelans cannot correct being Venezuelan. They cannot correct being forced to emigrate from their birthplace. How can being born any place on the good earth be the wrong place? Correction is an active process. The pen is somewhat as well. The current institution is literally retarded.

    No need for p.c with the k.i.s.s method:

  8. All Mammal 2023-01-22 15:55

    Detention center- juvi/kiddie jail
    Correctional institution- private/industrial complex
    Concentration camp- rezervation
    Internment camp- outside constitutional protections/ kidnap dungeon
    House arrest- rich man punishment
    Reeducation camp- Chinese brainwash slave jail
    Assimilation/integration-Indian boarding school

    There should be two choices:
    1. Warehouse them. For cho-mos, rapists, irredeemable killers
    2. Teach them. Truly correct their uncomely behaviors

  9. All Mammal 2023-01-22 16:11

    My nephew reminds us of his favorite:
    The brig-warship/pirate ship cell
    Detainment- non-arrest detention
    Chain gang-slave labor
    Prostitution- sex slave
    All a form of bondage. So many…. not too long ago, this land never even heard of imprisonment. Just a little capturing, but hey..

  10. All Mammal 2023-01-22 16:17

    One more:/
    SD penal system- warehousing slightly warm human bodies

  11. Bob Newland 2023-01-22 16:53

    Prisons are prisons. They are not “correctional” facilities. In the USA, they are designed to warehouse and torture people, about 2/3 of whom should not be there.

    Prisons don’t “correct” anyone. They simply put people who are inclined to have a grudge against the system in contact with people who can teach them how to really be criminals.

    A “correctonal” facility would provide less socially-adverse options. Prisons compound the problems.

  12. Bob Newland 2023-01-22 16:56

    BTW, my comment is not to suggest I approve of a single thought in Jim Bolin’s twisted head.

  13. larry kurtz 2023-01-22 18:37

    Tommy Bolin was a self-taught musician from Sioux City who died during an overdose.

    Jim Bolin is a year older and was born in Portland, Oregon then moved to Canton just north of Sioux City and is currently dying of an overdose of Jesus.

    If they’re related god is correctly penitent.

  14. Bob Newland 2023-01-22 19:01

    Helene Duhamel should be replaced with a voodoo doll.

  15. M 2023-01-23 07:03

    The officials at the top and the cops in this state do not believe in correcting anybody or anything. They want to keep ingestion of pot a felony so they can throw those addicts in a prison to rot. Then they go home and guzzle their legal alcohol and yes some beat their wives. It’s a prison pure and simple.

  16. P. Aitch 2023-01-23 14:22

    REGULATE THE POLICE – Colorado HB23-1042, would make any statement given by a juvenile to an interrogating police officer who used lies and deception inadmissible in court by default.
    Prosecutors could later ask a judge to allow those statements be used as evidence, but they’d have to prove “by the preponderance of evidence” that the statement was voluntary, despite the deception.

  17. Mark Anderson 2023-01-24 20:39

    Larry, saw Tommy Bolin play one afternoon at USD. Loved Zephyr and he was great.

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