PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Large amounts of money to start the process of updating South Dakota’s state prison system were approved by state lawmakers Wednesday.
After a presentation by Secretary of Corrections Kellie Wasko, members of the Joint Committee on Appropriations approved two bills unanimously giving millions to the Department of Corrections.
Lawmakers approved House Bill 1016 ($60 million for a new Rapid City-based women’s prison) and HB-1017 ($341 million for land, design and construction savings for a new Sioux Falls-based men’s prison). There was no proponent or opponent testimony on the two bills.
Wasko said HB-1017 gives the DOC power to start buying property and start a design for a new men’s prison. It’s similar to a bill last year that led to the new women’s prison covered in HB-1016.
“We’re not asking for another prison; we’re asking for a new prison,” Wasko said. “One that allows us the space that we need to treat them so that they can go back into society with appropriate programming and they don’t come back in.”
Wasko, who took over as DOC Secretary in Feb. 2022, consistently referenced two 100-plus page reports done by DLR Group and CGL on South Dakota’s aging prison system.
“The No. 1 issue in that report was the high levels of inmate crowding throughout the system,” Wasko said. “The only recommendation to address that is a new facility to replace the State Penitentiary by name.”
The State Penitentiary was built in 1881 and is a 140-year-old building. There’s been $30 million spent on maintenance and repair since Fiscal Year 2013.
“It’s done its time,” Wasko said about the State Pen. “It’s unsafe and it’s inefficient to staff. It’s got the highest vacancy rate and the highest overtime and double-time expenses as well.”
The South Dakota State Penitentiary is currently 176% over capacity with 488 more men housed than what is recommended by the American Correctional Association. HB-1017 would help all men’s correctional facilities to move under capacity by starting the process of a new men’s prison.
Wasko said the projected population for prisons will continue to increase well into the future. Both the men and women inmate population projections are expected to grow more than 15% in the next five years.
Wasko shared an example of a prison, Missouri-based Chillicothe Correctional Center, for 1,600 inmates as a very rough draft of what a new State Pen could look like. The new State Pen building would be 1,500 beds for inmates and Wasko said 160 acres is the recommendation but the minimum would be 100 acres.
“The days of building up are gone,” Wasko said. “The modern examples are spread out facilities.”
Wasko said DOC is looking to stay in the vicinity of Sioux Falls with a new State Pen, but noted there’s concerns about having a new facility in city limits. She also said there’s some concern about how far the workforce would travel from Sioux Falls.
“There’s many variables that we’re looking at,” Wasko said. “I want to be mindful of who is going to be able to travel in that Sioux Falls proximity.”
Construction wouldn’t start until 2028 at the earliest, Wasko said, and only after legislative approval of Phase II in March 2024 or March 2025.
“This is our effort to come to you with a fully vetted proposal,” Wasko said.
Wasko said the Jameson Prison Annex would still be used for specialty populations like inmates in wheel chairs and severe mentally ill inmates. The Sioux Falls Minimum Center would also continue to be used. It would be used as a “reentry center,” Wasko said.
Pheasantland Industries would move with the new State Pen. Wasko said she doesn’t have authority to know what would happen to the old State Pen building.
“I’m a geek for this architecture of the late 1800s,” Wasko said. “They turn them into museums. I don’t care and I don’t have the authority to say if we’d demolish it.”
Wasko said 215 DOC positions would transfer to the new state prison facility from the current 430 staff at the campus of the State Pen right now monitoring 1,390 inmates.
An additional 215 new positions would need to be added to help the new facility with an estimated ongoing cost of $12 to $16 million.
“That’s just a ballpark figure,” Wasko said.
Republican Sen. Jean Hunhoff asked what the cost per acre was for the women’s prison in Rapid City. The new women’s prison was 20 acres and cost just over $100 million, which would be about $50,000 per acre.