Lalley: The prison and the pork plant present crossroads for city's future

Gov. Kristi Noem said the state should spend $52 million toward new penitentiary. What an opportunity.

SD state penitentiary.jpg
The interior of the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls.
Contributed / S.D. Department of Corrections

SIOUX FALLS — We all know the story by now.

Back in the early days of the Dakota Territory, when plans were being laid for what would become the institutions of statehood, the founding fathers of our fair city decided a prison made more economic sense in the long run than the flagship university.

We got The Rock on the Hill and Vermillion got the University of South Dakota.

I know, bummer right?

Now, it’s tempting to go down that rat hole of what ifs and try to imagine what Sioux Falls would be like had the reverse occurred.


It’s the kind of "Back to the Future" thinking that can drive you mad.

(NOTE: If you think that’s an alternate universe wormhole, whatever you do, don’t watch or read "The Man in the High Castle." The storyline is based on the premise that the Axis powers prevailed in WWII. It sounds weird on the surface but it’s much more twisted than you can imagine.)

Regardless of the twist and turns of our imaginations, we can’t go back. Plus, I don’t think that “Sioux Falls as the home of the University of South Dakota” is much of a premise for a series.

Unless … quick somebody call my agent.

(NOTE: I don’t have an agent.)

Which is all to say that only fiction do we get to look back.

We have to look forward.

That brings us to the point of this discussion, the state budget. More specifically the $52 million that Gov. Kristi Noem says we should spend — and probably will — for land, engineering and design to update or replace the South Dakota State Penitentiary.


“We know it is outdated, not compliant with ADA requirements, and overcrowded. It has been an issue for many years, long before I was your governor,” Noem said during her budget address Dec. 6.

Here’s the question, what land?

There’s not much left on the current site, perched as it is on the bluff overlooking a packing plant, Falls Park, downtown and the verdant city beyond.

There’s the diversion channel to the east, rail lines and the airport to the north and housing to the southwest.

Where oh where will our prison go?

What an opportunity to transform the industrial and penal character of that high-profile section of the city, not just on the top of the bluff, but down below.

Maybe, and this is crazy dreamy stuff, the prison and the packing plant are a package deal.

The whole debate over where Wholestone Farms should build their plant only refocused the reality of the legacy of Smithfield.


The early citizens of Sioux Falls were a pragmatic bunch. They looked at the options and made what they thought was the best business decision.

You can’t blame them for not having the crystal ball to imagine a city with a major university and all that goes with it.

And, to be honest, then we wouldn’t be us. We’d be Madison or Lincoln or Lawrence, fine cities in their own right, but not Sioux Falls.

Is there some spot in or near our fair city where you can build a prison - or the beginnings of one - and a pork plant.

Anybody selling land? We’ve got the down payment.

Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for Sioux Falls Live. Reach him at
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