Funding construction of new men's prison in Lincoln County heads to House, Senate floors

PIERRE — The Joint Committee on Appropriations has recommended that both chambers of the Legislature pass a bill to fund the next step in the construction of the new men’s penitentiary on Friday with a vote of 14-4.

The prison, which will replace the more than 100-year-old South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, will be located in rural Lincoln County, much to the dismay of its future neighbors.

A proposed sketch of the new men's prison facility in Lincoln County. A tree line will create a visual barrier between neighbors and the facility.
A proposed sketch of the new men's prison facility in Lincoln County. A tree line will create a visual barrier between neighbors and the facility.

With funds coming from the American Rescue Plan Act, the state’s general fund and the budget reserve fund, more than $236 million will be put toward the future construction, slated to begin in 2025. Of that number, $10 million of ARPA funds will be used for establishing water and sewer infrastructure. The rest will go into the incarceration construction fund.

Department of Corrections Secretary Kellie Wasko told appropriators Wednesday that the DOC had a spending authority of $52 million to purchase the more than 300-acres in Lincoln County for the future prison site and start the design phase.

“Currently, we’re in the schematic phase, where we’re working to create actual floor plans, site plans and building elevations,” Wasko said. “We do know where we’re going to lay out on the property, the directions we’re going to face on the property and where our security perimeters are going to be in position.”

More: Lincoln County men's prison cost estimates could total over $567M before ground is broken

Wasko faced heavy questioning on the ballooning costs of the prison, when an initial estimate done in 2021 by architectural group DLR found that the men’s prison could cost $338 million. Now, with inflation and construction costs going up, the state could spend at a minimum $567 million building the new prison.

“I remain very concerned about the costs and believe they are highly inflated,” Rep. John Mills, R-Volga, said. “As an appropriations committee, we need to be digging into this further and pushing back, so we don’t build the Taj Mahal of prisons.”

Mills was one of the four no votes Friday morning.

More: DOC’s lack of transparency about new SD prison could have long-term consequences, expert says

Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, defended Wasko and the rising costs of the project’s construction on Thursday during the weekly GOP press briefing. As the co-chair of Joint Appropriations, she said many state projects had come back during the past few years requesting additional funds.

“I think it’s challenging right now, but I think what the department has said is they’re having the bid now and the contract that bears on the contractor for the cost,” she said. “If costs are exceeded, it’s the contractor that eats that, not the state of South Dakota.”

Hunhoff added she was cautious of the $567 million estimate and thought inflation could still impact the project.

Wasko told lawmakers she hoped to have a final cost estimate in November on how much construction of the men’s prison will cost the state.

The Senate and House floors will vote on the men’s prison funding in the next two weeks and how that fits into the state’s budget as the 99th Legislative session begins to wind down.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: South Dakota House, Senate to hear arguments on funding men's prison