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Kirby: Invite Bids from Other Towns for New Penitentiary

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.

South Dakota School and Public Lands Viewer, screen cap, 2023.10.31.
South Dakota School and Public Lands Viewer, screen cap, 2023.10.31.

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.


  1. jim 2023-10-31 07:04

    Maybe… think bigger.

    Consider the many millions of dollars in land value that the SD Penitentiary and Smithfield sit on. The area around Falls Park is seeing unbelievable development. Those two entities are huge and the land they occupy has become extremely valuable.

    Move both? I don’t know whether it’s feasible to completely relocate one or both of them. But, if it is, then they need to be open about the process. The current situation certainly could have been handled much better.

    These behind the scenes deals are a disaster. Who thought that hiding this from the public would end well?

  2. Scott Ehrisman 2023-10-31 07:40

    The current pen site is going nowhere. The state just spent around $6 million upgrading the medical facilities at Jameson Annex. I’m not sure someone would add an addition on their house and then 2 years later bulldoze the entire house (well maybe if you live in McKennan Park). They will continue to probably use the facility for work release, low security inmates after the new prison is built. As for Smithfield’s, that ain’t going anywhere either. The Feds had an opportunity to rid us of that horrible stink bomb during Covid and a bunch of people in state and local government stuck their noses in it and screwed it all up. I wish I knew the whole story?

    Speaking of Smithfield, late at night or early in the morning the stink really gears up. I live about 4 miles south of the manure factory and even at that distance I can smell it, I have even smelled it on 69th street! The new Cherapa condos are less then a mile from there and the other night as I was riding around the complex it stunk of holy hell! I can’t imagine having a million dollar condo with a patio facing Smithfield’s and getting to smell that every morning as I have my morning coffee.

  3. John 2023-10-31 09:41

    Obviously South Dakota republican government has a systemic transparency problem: shooting range colossus, penitentiary.
    When government operates without transparency there can be no trust.

  4. P. Aitch 2023-10-31 09:47

    Why It Happened?
    The Noem Administration doesn’t need six months of contrary, German negativity to help them make a decision. Get your common entertainment somewhere else.

  5. Eve Fisher 2023-10-31 10:14

    The Jameson Annex is going to become the inmate infirmary / hospice for the new pen AND Springfield. (Besides, it’s also death row.) Most of the lifers are being moved to Springfield, BTW, until they get old enough to need infirmary/hospice. The actual 1881 pen, i.e., the Hill, is probably going to be razed and turned into a parking lot? Park? Nobody knows. But it’s going to be demolished, because it’s been condemned for years. What Unit C will be is up in the air. Such is what I’ve heard from sources.

  6. jerry 2023-10-31 10:17

    Pierre, South Dakota has the most bang for the buck regarding economic development and all that goes with that. Think upgrading existing rail for passenger service from the population centers of Brookings, Sioux Falls for more employees to come both ways.

    We could then encourage more criminal activity to keep the place booked.

  7. cibvet 2023-10-31 10:40

    Putting the penal institution in Pierre would be a consistent site that political criminality might not pay.
    I’m sure politicians would prefer “out of site is out of mind” or “catch me if you can” without the constant reminder
    of seeing a prison while in Pierre.

  8. grudznick 2023-10-31 12:25

    grudznick is #4Science, of the social sort.

  9. Arlo Blundt 2023-10-31 14:42

    How a large plot of School and Public Land remained in Lincoln County after all these years must have quite a back story. It is truly one of those rare conspiracies of the Deep State that has remained out of sight, out of mind for the last 100 years.

  10. Richard Schriever 2023-10-31 15:31

    Scott – as the framers always say: “Smells like money!!”

    jim – both Smithfield and the pen are under the landing approach to FSD. There won’t be anything built there that is taller to the bluffs unless the airport is moved away from town – further up the Big Sioux(er) Valley.

  11. jim 2023-10-31 15:49

    How much is land going for by Levitt at the Falls? A new ten-story building here and another eight story there.

    So… what is all of that land at Smithfield ultimately worth? Add in the leaf drop-off area and the penitentiary. It’s a massive amount of money if sold thoughtfully. Upgrades to the prison may pale in comparison. Perhaps motivated patrons could help with financing. Maybe something could be worked out. The smell down there is still terrible at times.

    No, I am not an expert on real estate values but both could be moved. I think they should be moved eventually. How much are the new construction lots by Levitt going for? What they are valued at currently?

    Would you want the penitentiary and Smithfield there – if they weren’t already in those locations? Of course not.

    Some say it can’t be done. I’d like to see some numbers before I agree with that. We should have that discussion and look at all of the possibilities. Their removal could be a big boost for the image of the city. It just might be worth it.

  12. jim 2023-10-31 16:14

    I remember conversations with city leaders about the falls area… before… it was cleaned up. Some of those same people were involved in making the improvements to Falls Park. Look what it has become. We need to look well into the future, but ask the tough questions now.

  13. John 2023-10-31 18:25

    Allowing cities to offer proposals makes sense. Some towns have unused, underused infrastructure. Some towns have state institutions with a nebulous future (Madison, and Mitchell, Aberdeen with a private institution,). Springfield once hated having a prison. But that prison proved a more viable economic anchor than did a fleeting minor college. Huron and Aberdeen, perhaps others, folded minor colleges. Championing a prison may not be popular; yet it may be a smart path for anchoring a minor town/city. The future screams that if one’s town/city is not on the I29/I90 corridors, that the future for that town is marking time to collapse.
    The history of South Dakota shows that prisons outlast colleges, so are an unfortunate foundation for anchoring towns economic viability.

  14. P. Aitch 2023-10-31 18:55

    My nature is to think “new things” and “innovation”. When Colorado built SuperMax and other lesser confinements some of the Olde Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility was repurposed into a tourist destination.
    I’d personally like to tour the Sioux Falls Pen much as many like to tour Alcatraz.
    Some of the attractions:
    – Ghost and vampire tours in Canon City
    – Mountain Murders : Brings to the public 15 legendary Colorado murders
    – Museum shares a stone wall and armed towers with a prison that has been in continuous operation since 1871. Visitors can browse through exhibits covering more than 140 years, it’s a piece of history, come live the history.
    – More than 200,000 visitors have toured the Museum, including visitors from every state in the U.S., its territories, and over 50 foreign countries.

  15. grudznick 2023-10-31 19:21

    There, in Aberdeen, they are cracking down on petitioners. As they should.

  16. P. Aitch 2023-10-31 20:14

    Stop giving kids poison candy, grudz!

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