Mayor Paul TenHaken urges state to build new prison outside Sioux Falls
The Department of Corrections is looking for land to replace the aging penitentiary near the city's downtown.
SIOUX FALLS — Mayor Paul TenHaken has a preference for the location of a new maximum-security prison currently in the planning stages by the South Dakota Department of Corrections.
Anywhere but here.
“My hope and desire would be that, while we need a new prison, that it’s not located in Sioux Falls,” TenHaken said in an interview with Sioux Falls Live on Tuesday, March 7. “I don’t think it makes sense, for sure, to be inside the Sioux Falls city limits.”
State lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on a budget that includes $50 million for 130 to 160 acres of land and planning for a new prison to replace the main penitentiary near downtown Sioux Falls. The original portions of the building, built in 1881, are in dire need of upgrading.
The total cost of the project is estimated at around $530 million and lawmakers are just starting to sock money away to pay for it.
The next question that needs to be answered is where. The current location, which also includes the Jameson Annex, a modern facility, is surrounded by housing, railroad lines and the Big Sioux River.
TehHaken said he’s not had conversations with state officials on potential locations.
“We are all in agreement … that we need a new one,” he said. “I hear what you hear. That’s all.”
Comments by lawmakers, including Rep. Linda Duba of Sioux Falls, point to an area north or west of the city proper.
The state already owns land on what used to be the West Farm, just outside the city limits near Ellis, though not enough. There are currently juvenile offender programs at that location, operated by a private company on behalf of the state.
Gov. Kristi Noem on Monday declined to offer specifics about the prison location.
“There’s a legal process for purchasing land and what it looks like, we're following through on that process and identifying potential sites, but I can't give you any more details,” she told Sioux Falls Live following a press conference on tax cuts.
TenHaken made his comments following a press conference releasing crime statistics for the city in 2022.
Police Chief Jon Thum echoed the mayor’s position on a prison location after the event.
“While we support the move for a new prison, we haven't really been engaged about exactly where it’s going to be located,” Thum said in an interview. “We understand the state and corrections are going to have a presence in Sioux Falls, but this also an opportunity to create a more secure, efficient facility that maybe would be too constrained within Sioux Falls.”
South Dakota Corrections Secretary Kellie Wasko told lawmakers recently that staffing is a concern when determining a location.
“I have 215 staff that I have to think about,” she said. “Where am I going to move them? If I’m looking at a property that’s 30 or 40 minutes away from Sioux Falls, what’s the probability I’m going to have 215 staff traveling?”
TenHaken appreciates the workforce problem because it’s a problem for every employer in the city and the metro. Maybe going further away from Sioux Falls would be good for another community, he said.
“You put a prison in small-town South Dakota, or medium-sized South Dakota, it has the ability to be an economic driver, a job creation tool, a recruitment tool,” he said. “I hope the state is considering that and looking at that, not just making the assumption that just because most of the people live in Sioux Falls, that’s where the prison should be. It feels that’s the direction they’re headed.”
Having a state prison in a large population center is unusual, TenHaken said.
First of all, it’s a public safety concern because if something goes wrong there are more people that can be affected, he said.
Second, it concentrates ex-cons in the city after their release. That’s because there are necessary services in the city but it would be better if more parolees could return to their community of origin, he said. Putting a new prison somewhere other than Sioux Falls would help that.
“I think if it’s in a different setting, a more rural setting when they are released, there’s more opportunity for them to go to different places, than to keep them all congregated in one urban center, which really happens right now,” he said.
Forum News Service reporter Jason Harward contributed to this story.