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Prison Would Create Hundreds of Illinois Jobs

Posted on February 17, 2010

President Obama has said that he wants to ship Guantánamo Bay detainees to the Thomson Correctional Center, a move that would create hundreds of Illinois jobs (Click here).

According to CSMonitor.com, Thomson Correctional Center is a nine-year-old underutilized state prison in northwest Illinois and the federal prison system’s second “Supermax” facility.

At an eight-hour hearing in late December at in nearby Sterling, Ill., political leaders questioned state and federal officials and took public comments on whether the sale of the facility to the US Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Defense would be a good deal and would guarantee the 3,000 jobs and $1 billion in development announced in the planning.

Of the 850 to 900 staff positions at the prison, 60 percent will be local, said Harley Lappin, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Mr. Lappin added that he estimates 1,200 to 1,700 private-sector jobs will be created as a result of prison activity – “all indirect ways the prison will create jobs and reduce unemployment.”

Job growth in this sector is needed, since Illinois has lost many manufacturing and insurance jobs, to name a few.

The CSMonitor article states that in January, a state commission approved closing the facility; now appraisals will be made to negotiate a price.

Aside from that, congressional approval is needed to transfer the prisoners to US soil.

Jay Alan Liotta, principal director of the Defense Department’s office of detainee policy, said the 198 Guantánamo prisoners will be either transferred to their home country, sent to stand trial in New York City, or selected for military tribunals here.

“No timeline has been set,” Mr. Liotta said, for the prison’s opening.

Once the sale is final, the prison will be fortified with a second perimeter, Lappin says. The prison would also house 1,600 federal inmates, but “there will be no contact between them and the detainees,” he said. (Today, only about 144 minimum-­security prisoners are at the facility.)

Liotta called Guantánamo “a recruitment tool” for terrorist organizations and said its closure and the subsequent transfer of detainees to Thomson will eliminate it as a stigma for “people who have not yet made up their mind about Al Qaeda.”

Activists from local “tea party” and veterans’ groups denounce the idea of bringing 100 to 150 terrorist detainees here, which they say would be a threat to national security and an insult to those fighting the war on terror.

But for many residents in Thomson and the surrounding towns of Carroll County (population 15,841), economics outweighs the fear of the unknown regarding Guantánamo prisoners.

Rural beauty may draw Chicago tourists to drive two hours to hike the palisades in the local state park or go antiquing in downtown Savanna, but the local economy is in peril.

In 2009, unemployment rose to 11.6 percent. Nursing homes, school districts, tourism, and retail businesses are taking up some of the slack that manufacturing and local agriculture left behind. For Bonnie Foust, village president of Shannon, the prospect of a federal prison jump-starting the economy is “better than nothing.”

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