Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Monday February 4th, 2013, 7:42pm

Odds Of Thomson Prison Opening Look Good

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) says there is continued commitment to open Thomson Correctional Center in Northwest Illinois, a prison that has sat mostly vacant since it was built in 2001.

Durbin sat down with Charles Samuels, director of the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Prisons, last week and was assured the process of opening Thomson was moving forward. U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-17) joined the meeting by phone.

A timeline for the opening of Thomson has not been released yet, though. Funding for the necessary updates for the prison to meet federal standards is contingent on the president’s FY 2014 budget, which has not yet been submitted.

“When President Obama releases his budget in the next few weeks, it should include funding for prison activation,” said Durbin in a press release. “Over the next few months, I will be working with Congresswoman Bustos to ensure that opening Thomson prison – and bringing jobs and economic activity to Northwest Illinois communities – remains a priority.”

The federal government bought the long-dormant prison from the state of Illinois in October for $165 million. The Bureau of Prisons plans to use the facility as a maximum-security federal prison to alleviate overcrowding.

“Director Samuels assured us that process is moving forward,” said Durbin, who advocated for the sale of Thomson for three years.

The 146-acre, 15-building prison on the north edge of Thomson in Carroll County cost the state of Illinois $129 million to construct in 2001, but budget crunches prevented it from fully opening.

Since its construction, the only inmates to ever live in Thomson were 200 minimum-security state prisoners in 2009, but they were moved out in 2010, taking 75 prison-related jobs with them and leaving the site vacant once again. The facility has 1,600 total cells and is enclosed by a 12-foot exterior fence and 15-foot interior fence, which includes a dual-sided electric stun fence.

“Thomson prison represents an economic shot in the arm to our region,” said Rep. Bustos in a press release. “I look forward to working with Senator Durbin over the coming months to make sure this job-creating facility continues to be on track for opening.”

At least one resident of Carroll County said the opening of Thomson is long overdue.

“They built a beautiful facility on taxpayer’s dollars and it hurt that they never opened it up. People have been waiting for that to happen here in the county for a long time,” said Michael Doty, county administrator for Carroll County. Doty said people in the area are disappointed in the underutilization of the prison.

The federal government’s operation of Thomson is expected to provide a major boost to the local economy and create more than 1,100 jobs. Annual operation of the facility is expected to generate more than $122 million in operating expenditures (including salaries), $19 million in labor income, and $61 million in local business sales.

Doty said that for Carroll County’s population of less than 16,000, the prison opening would bring a noticeable wave of positive economic activity.

“Majority of our county is rural farmland, and there’s not a whole lot of jobs in that,” said Doty. “But even if the prison doesn’t employ a lot of locals, the nearby restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores will see more economic activity because government employees’ dollars will be spent in the area.”

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