Federal Government Will Buy Illinois Prison | St. Louis Public Radio

Federal Government Will Buy Illinois Prison

Oct 2, 2012

Updated at 5:45 p.m. with additional comments from Gov. Quinn and comments from Sen. Durbin. Brian Mackey contributed reporting.

Updated at 2 p.m. with statement from Gov. Pat Quinn.

The federal government has agreed to purchase the underused Thomson Correctional Center in northwest Illinois to relieve crowding in its facilities, despite fervent opposition from members of Congress.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin, both Democrats, announced today that the Department of Justice had filed the paperwork to acquire the 1,600-cell prison for $165 million. The facility, which cost the state $220 million to build, never fully opened because of state budget problems.

Illinois has been trying to sell the prison since 2009. The Obama administration originally intended to house detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in Thomson, but a House subcommittee that oversees the Bureau of Prisons scuttled the idea.

Sen. Durbin said the subcommittee's chair, Republican Frank Wolf of Virginia, would not accept assurances that terrorism suspects would not be housed at Thomson - so the administration went around his subcommittee.

"The president has given his word, this administration has given its word, the law requires that no Guantanamo detainees be placed in the Thomson prison, period," Durbin said, adding that while unusual, the decision to circumvent the subcommittee was not illegal. Rep. Wolf called the move troubling.

Quinn's office says the prison's opening will create 1,100 jobs, and generate about $202 million for the area's economy. He says a portion of the $165 million sale price should go to paying off debts accumulated during the construction of Thomson - and the rest should go toward the state's $9 billion in unpaid bills.

"We owe this money right now to good people and businesses that have provided services to the people of Illinois." Quinn said. "And there can't be a more pressing priority than that."

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