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History of the South Dakota Department of Corrections

The history of corrections in South Dakota stretches farther back than statehood.

On February 8, 1881, Territorial Governor Nehemiah Ordway approved a bill passed by the fourteenth session of the Territorial Legislative Assembly providing for the location and government of a territorial penitentiary. The bill provided that the institution would be located on a track of land not less than 80 acres within the corporate limits of the village of Sioux Falls, Minnehaha County, Dakota Territory. If a suitable tract of land could not be obtained within the limits of Sioux Falls, then the penitentiary was to be located on a tract of land within a one-mile radius of Sioux Falls.

The directors were to proceed to contract for the erection of a suitable building for a penitentiary of such dimensions to accommodate 125-150 people, at a cost of land and building not to exceed $50,000. The cost of the land was not to exceed $500.

Two suitable sites were found. One was located near the Omaha Railroad, the other near the Milwaukee railroad line. However, the sum of $500 appropriated to pay for the required amount of land for a site was insufficient. When the company securing the site offered to pay any deficiency, a site was finally selected. The United States government had also made an appropriation of $30,000 for a territorial penitentiary at Sioux Falls. By the provisions of Chapter 23 of the Session Laws of 1881, (an act passed to provide for raising funds to build the penitentiary) the Board of Directors was given authority to receive this sum from the federal government. The Board was to credit these monies to the penitentiary fund.

But the Board soon learned that the $30,000 appropriated by the United States government could not be used in the construction of the contemplated buildings. Upon consultation with the proper officials, 85 acres of land was purchased. Eighty-one acres were deeded to the Dakota Territory and four additional acres to the federal government. It was agreed that the federal government would erect one wing of the proposed building and pay $500 for the four acres, this being the amount the Board was permitted to pay for the site.

When the location was settled and the plans and specifications made sealed proposals for the construction of the buildings were requested. R.H. Booth was appointed as superintendent of construction. On August 30, 1881, the masonry and carpentry work was let to R.D. Silver of Lincoln, Nebraska for the sum of $34,813.80. On October 27, 1881, the contract for the ironwork was let to Martin and Anderson of Yankton for the sum of $6,550.

The final bill, including water supply, heating and cooking supplies and other miscellaneous items came to $59,620.90. Territorial bonds for twenty years at six percent interest were issued to cover the building costs.

On December 13, 1882, approximately 30 prisoners were transferred from Detroit, Michigan. A man serving 12 years for murder drew the first number.

In 1883, the Territorial Legislature approved funding for several more buildings, including the Warden's Residence. Up until 1989, state law required that the warden live on the Penitentiary grounds. That building is now used as offices for the Board of Pardons and Paroles, Central Records, Classification and Transfers.

When South Dakota was granted statehood in 1889, the institution became a state prison. Federal prisoners continued to be sent here.

Originally, the institution consisted of the central administration unit and two cell block wings on either side.

The original prison yard enclosure was a wooden fence. It was subsequently replaced with a stone wall during the tenure of Warden N.E. Phillips (1893-1899). The wall was 1,182 feet in length, 30 feet high and 11 feet thick at the base. It was constructed at a cost of less than $12,000.

Timeline of major events

Historical Photographs

DOC 25th Anniversary