Lincoln County residents who don’t want the state to build a new penitentiary in their backyard have come with a clever name for the campaign they are organizing: NOPE! Neighbors Opposing Prison Expansion!
The name suggests the group is going to take up the banner of reducing South Dakota’s above-average incarceration rates and promoting alternatives to prison. But NOPE board member Jim Eiesland belied the new group’s name last night, telling the Lincoln County Commission they don’t really oppose prison expansion, just prison expansion in their rural neighborhood:
“We aren’t saying that we don’t need a new men’s prison,” he said. “We aren’t saying that a new men’s prison can’t be in Lincoln County. But let’s put it where the industry is supposed to go. Let’s put it in the corridors” [Dan Santella, “NOPE Seeks Communication About Lincoln County Prison,” KELO-TV, 2023.10.24].
NOPE and sympathetic Lincoln County Commissioner Jim Jibben say they want to know what other sites the Department of Corrections considered, apparently so they can make the case that the state should switch to one of those other sites. In an October 12 email posted to NOPE’s FB page by Karissa Vander Waerdt, DOC Secretary Kellie Wasko doesn’t give specifics on other sites but says the proposed site was the best among multiple sites considered near Sioux Falls and is a lot better than the current location:
Jeff Spyksma posted this list of reasons to oppose this particular pen plan.
- Decreased land values. I bought my property two years ago. I’ve spent the last two years building my dream home with my own two hands. Using conservative numbers from relators, I stand to lose $400,000 – $500,000 on my value of my home. In simpler terms. I will owe more than what it’s worth. All of my neighbors have the very same concern.
- Increased traffic. We have already noticed an increase in traffic. Vehicles flying down our gravel roads in order to see this proposed site. parents are worried about their kids playing outside. Farmers dealing with “city drivers” while they try to get their crops out. The traffic will do nothing but increase with construction, employees and delivery trucks constantly coming and going.
- Economic impact. There are so many studies that show the decline of economic activity after a prison is built in an area. Housing will dwindle but the housing that remains or actually does develop will be low income. The people that live around prisons are generally associated with an inmate. We were informed that a developer which was going to put up (10) million dollar houses south of Harrisburg has now pumped the breaks on that project. They have no intention to build that kind of house in a prison area. The customer base for that caliber of home simple won’t support it. The state claims more jobs… Really? the new facility is supposed to function with half the staff. Current prison staff has priority on these “new” jobs. Studies show that gas stations and other small businesses that try to rely on prisons generally fail within 5 years. Taxes – I’m not a specialist here but I’m guessing Lincoln county receives some taxes from the ag land and or its production. Will they receive taxes from a state facility? The education fund receives a onetime payment from the sale of the land instead of yearly revenue.
- Safety. We know that a state-of-the-art facility should be pretty safe, but what about the element the visitors bring to the area. Criminals hang with criminals. Drug users hang with other drug users. Do we really want what’s happing in our larger cities (including Sioux Falls) to be brought to rural lincoln county ?? We have kids, mothers, grandmothers, and daycares all in the immediate vicinity of the proposed site. They fear for their future safety!
- Emergency services. Our emergency services are made up of a lot of volunteers. The added duties for these services will overwhelm an already understaffed service. You will lose volunteers !
- Lincoln county comprehensive plans. Although I have not personally read ours yet, these plans designate industrial areas for this type of facility. It PROTECTS the ag land and its owners from industrial use.
- The simple fact that our elected officials have conducted most of this behind closed doors. Our government is supposed to be transparent. Does it not make you wonder why this was all so hush hush, why gag orders were in pace limiting this getting out?? This is state public land owned by the educational department. The public has a right in the say of how it’s used [Jeff Spyksma, NOPE FB post, 2023.10.12].
I’m not sure how big a house Spyksma built if a prison nearby could drop its value by half a million, but it’s hard to find evidence that correctional facilities have any actual impact on property values. One Dutch master’s thesis suggests that prisons may drop property values within a quarter mile by 3%, which would suggest that Spyksma built a $16-million house out in the middle of a cornfield, which…well, hey, to each his own.
Spyksma’s claim that a developer has backed away from building $10M houses south of Harrisburg sounds fishy. Remember, the new pen would be four miles south of Harrisburg. Take a look at the Sioux Falls map: the existence of the current penitentiary didn’t stop developers from building some of the finest houses in Sioux Falls in the McKennan Park neighborhood, which is less than three miles from the pen. Swing that radius north and east and you can find more contemporary mansions built in Cactus Park within three miles of the pen and the nearby Smithfield slaughterhouse. A developer who says, “Oh no! Penitentiary four miles away! I quit!” is missing an opportunity to snap up lots of open space around Harrisburg where folks could build extravagant houses and never see the new Lincoln County pen.
But a glaring point in Spyksma’s critique is the last one, a concern about transparency that appears to rankle many of the NOPErs. The current Governor won her office on promises of transparency. Lincoln County residents see pretty clearly that the prison site selection process and responses since have been anything but transparent. Opening the site selection process to public input could have averted some of this opposition; instead, the surprise announcement appears to be fueling even more opposition from Lincoln County residents who feel blindsided and betrayed by the administration they twice helped elect.
NOPE and all other interested residents deserve full information on what sites were considered for the new pen and what criteria were used to determine that the current cornfield south of Harrisburg was the optimum location for our inmate population. But once they get that information, if NOPE wants the state to pick a different site for the new penitentiary, they’ll have to make a clear case that the harms they claim come from new prisons really occur. If they can make that case, they’ll then have to make a perhaps harder case that those harms should be imposed on somebody else.