SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The 2022 Legislative session has ended but the work will continue addressing issues facing South Dakota’s correctional system. 

Throughout the 2022 session, issues regarding the facilities and process for county jails, juvenile justice centers and state prisons arose in multiple bills. Specifically, county officials with Brown County, Lawrence County and Brown County had requests to help fund county and regional jails, while Gov. Kristi Noem noted an extensive study of the state prison system recommends $600 million in changes. 

Sen. Al Novstrup (R-Aberdeen) sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution 608, which officially called for an interim study “regarding local correctional needs across the state and opportunities for collaboration within the state’s correctional plan.” On Monday, the Legislature’s Executive Board voted 9-6 to study state-prison funding, juvenile justice and local county jails. 

Novstrup said the goals of the correctional system in South Dakota are to protect taxpayer money by using the least amount of cost for offenders and to stop creating repeat offenders through treatment and vocational training.  

“They’re all related to people that have done some offense and we’re trying to figure out how to best deal with that,” Novstrup said.  

He cited an example from the Brown County jail in Aberdeen. Novstrup said Brown County’s jail sees offenders from a 12-county area that stretches from Milbank in the East and Mobridge in the West. 

“A lot of counties have a really small number, so they’d rather put the offender in a car, take them to the neighboring jail and send them a daily rent check,” Novstrup said. 

There are 66 South Dakota counties, but there’s only 25 county jails and that number may continue to dwindle. Counties like Clay, Lincoln and Walworth have had public examples regarding aging facilities vs. the cost-benefit of new county jails.  

Walworth County closed its county jail in 2020 following a KELOLAND Investigates story showing unfit conditions. Clay County is still considering building a new jail after a 2021 bond failed. 

In 2020, Lincoln County paid $1.6 million to house county inmates in the Minnehaha County jail. 

Novstrup said a lot of smaller counties don’t see operating a county jail as a wise use of their money and added an effective county jail needs at least 10 offenders to make up for the costs of supervising them. 

“The problem with the current system is they need a place to put them each night,” Novstrup said. “There’s a need to have something closer to home and there’s a need to have some empty spaces so offenders have a place to go each night.” 

In Brown County, the more than 50-year-old jail was built to house 96 inmates, but can only house 48 because of lawsuits regarding the conditions in the jail. 

“We’re also failing to provide the rehabilitation that could cut down on future costs,” Novstrup said. 

Novstrup said Brown County is eying the purchase of a large former manufacturing building where jail cells could be installed as needed within a building larger as four football fields. He added options for vocational training and addiction treatment could then also be included on-site within the jail facility as well. 

Alongside the issues regarding changes and new county jails, a study by the DLR Group said the state could spend $608 million to fix current issues and meet future needs. DLR Group, a Omaha architecture and engineering firm, was paid $323,000 to develop a master plan for the correctional system.

The full plan was released in a 101-page document that calls for a new 1,372-bed Multi Custody Correctional Facility built in the Sioux Falls-area and ending the use of the South Dakota State Penitentiary which was built in 1881 and is “not efficient to operate and expensive to maintain.” 

Like county jails, Novstrup said the main question comes down to getting the total job done at the lowest cost. 

“If that involves having two jails, that’s fine. It involves having one jail, that’s fine,” Novstrup said. “Once you get away from Sioux Falls, then the problem becomes really small with counties trying to deal with their situation.” 

In future meetings and studies to come, Novstrup said it will be important for lawmakers to hear from stakeholders including county sheriffs, county commissioners, prosecutors and taxpayers. 

Novstrup also highlighted the importance of regional balance regarding county jails and state prisons which are centralized. 

“The current thinking within the Department of Corrections is to keep people close to home,” Novstrup said. “Keep them tied to their family, get them a job they don’t have to get rid of when they are paroled out.”