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State breaks ground on $60 million women’s prison in Rapid City

By: - October 16, 2023 3:31 pm
From left, Pennington County Sheriff Brian Mueller, South Dakota Secretary of Corrections Kellie Wasko and Ryan Brunner, senior policy adviser and director of legislative relations for Gov. Kristi Noem, participate in a groundbreaking ceremony for a women's prison Oct. 16, 2023, in Rapid City. (Seth Tupper/South Dakota Searchlight)

From left, Pennington County Sheriff Brian Mueller, South Dakota Secretary of Corrections Kellie Wasko and Ryan Brunner, senior policy adviser and director of legislative relations for Gov. Kristi Noem, participate in a groundbreaking ceremony for a women’s prison Oct. 16, 2023, in Rapid City. (Seth Tupper/South Dakota Searchlight)

RAPID CITY — While controversy continues over the site of a proposed new penitentiary near Sioux Falls, the state Department of Corrections is proceeding with a plan to build a new women’s prison on the other side of South Dakota.

State officials broke ground for the women’s prison Monday in Rapid City.

“I’m very happy to be here today and very proud of the work and the collaboration that has been happening over the course of the last six months,” said Kellie Wasko, state corrections secretary, during the ceremony.

The Legislature appropriated $3.8 million to acquire the 20-acre site in eastern Rapid City and $60 million for construction, which will begin this winter with a target completion date of late 2025 or early 2026.

The new medium-security women’s prison will have space for 288 beds and will ease overcrowding at the state’s only other women’s prison in Pierre. That prison and its associated off-site facilities house about 600 women, which Wasko said is at 150% of its intended capacity.

“This facility coming to the Rapid City area allows us to bring women over to this side of the state and open up more opportunities for them to work outside the facilities, work with the area schools and have more opportunities at successful re-entry,” Wasko said.

The address of the future Rapid City prison is 1056 North Creek Drive. That’s just to the south of Interstate 90 and east of a large shopping area that includes a Target store. But the shopping area is on the other side of a busy thoroughfare; the prison site’s immediate neighbors include warehouses and storage units, and the property is bordered by railroad tracks to the north and an expanse of hilly grassland to the east.

Meanwhile, the recently announced location of the proposed new penitentiary is a rural area about 15 miles south of Sioux Falls. The land there is already owned by the state Office of School and Public Lands, which has been leasing it out for agricultural use. Nearby rural homeowners said last week they were shocked by the site-selection news, and Lincoln County commissioners responded with a request for more information on the project plans from state officials.

The penitentiary project is intended to address safety problems blamed on the antiquated design of the current penitentiary, which was built in 1881 in Sioux Falls. Lawmakers last winter set aside about $323 million for the penitentiary project.

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Seth Tupper
Seth Tupper

Seth is editor-in-chief of South Dakota Searchlight. He was previously a supervising senior producer for South Dakota Public Broadcasting and a newspaper journalist in Rapid City and Mitchell.

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