Sioux Falls blogger Joe Kirby says maybe that patch of state land four miles south of Harrisburg in Lincoln County is the best spot for a new penitentiary or maybe it isn’t, but “It’s hard to know without more transparency.” Kirby says the state could have avoided uncertainty and mounting controversy by conducting an open bidding process:
If I had been advising the state on their site selection process, I would have recommended a transparent and open-minded approach. The state could have announced its intention to replace the penitentiary, publicly shared the criteria for evaluating potential sites, and invited proposals from communities across the state.
Instead, the state made its pick with no advance notice, and so far, minimal information has been released. Both the site and the process used to pick it have raised concerns. Many neighbors, including local officials, have expressed an interest in learning more. And now some legislators have started asking questions.
There may be communities along the I29 corridor or within an hour of Sioux Falls on I90 that would enthusiastically welcome the facility, just as Sioux Falls and Richard Pettigrew did decades ago. It offers the prospect of stable government jobs for the next century, which is a potentially enticing opportunity for areas dealing with stagnant or declining populations [Joe Kirby, “Relocating the Penitentiary,” Sioux Falls Joe, 2023.10.30].
The state probably saved itself some time and money by picking land it already owned under the Commission of School and Public Lands for the new pen project. Kirby suggestion that we take bids from other communities along I-29 or up to an hour west of Sioux Falls on I-90, where we would have an easier time finding prison workers, is perfectly reasonable, but we would have a hard time finding other CSPL land in that area. The CSPL GIS map appears to show the next nearest state plots we could convert from farm to prison (wait—why convert? have the prisoners farm!) are out in Aurora County around Plankinton and White Lake, an hour and a half west of Sioux Falls. There don’t appear to be any CSPL acres along I-29.
Maybe the state did ask around to see if any communities would be interested in hosting the new pen. But as Kirby says, we can’t know if the state is going to keep the whole prison process under wraps. Maybe Plankinton, Mitchell, Watertown, Yankton, or some other town would be interested in seeking its fortune in Corrections and could come up with alternative affordable land for the big new pen. Even if there is no interest or feasible alternative, it wouldn’t hurt to ask.