THOMSON, Ill. — Illinois State Representatives Jerry Mitchell, R-Sterling, and Jim Sacia, R-Freeport, were in Thomson on Friday asking Gov. Rod Blagojevich to open the Thomson Correctional Center.

The two Illinois lawmakers were joined by Lawrence Bruckner, Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor, and Steve Haring, Republican candidate for State Representative in the 71st District.

At a press conference at the prison, Mitchell said the vacant prison presents both a safety issue and an economic burden on Illinois. He said the state is in crisis because of overcrowding at Illinois prisons.

“We have the answer right here,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the opening of the Thomson prison would alleviate a burden on other prisons and end a monetary drain on Illinois taxpayers.

In a press release Mitchell said, “By transferring prisoners from the state’s other overcrowded level one facilities to the new, more efficient Thomson Correctional Center, we could create up to 900 good, new jobs in our communities, improve safety of staff at all our level one correctional facilities and save the state almost $12 million per year.”

“This is the biggest embarrassment in Illinois,” Sacia said. “This prison has to be opened.”

Sacia and Mitchell are supporting a bill introduced by Illinois State Sen. Todd Sieben, R-Geneseo, that could open the prison. On Jan. 18, Sieben introduced Senate Bill 2473, which would appropriate $52 million to the Illinois Department of Corrections to open the $140 million maximum-security prison that has sat vacant since its construction was complete in 2001. The representatives are hoping the process of opening the prison will begin this year, with funding being approved in the fiscal year 2007 budget.

“It’s a shame that it’s not being utilized when the prison system is at 150 to 177 percent capacity,” Sacia said.

“Five years is too long,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to get this open this year folks.”

Bruckner said the financial burden the vacant prison places on Illinois citizens is symptomatic of waste throughout the state. He added he knows of several local businesses that have closed or are struggling to stay open in the Thomson area because the prison is not in use.

“You can’t calculate those losses, because you have destroyed dreams,” Bruckner said. He added that the opening of the Thomson prison has been a rollercoaster ride of broken promises.

“It’s been a long, long road,” Bruckner said.

Haring said area leaders are beyond the rhetoric and the false deadlines.

“It’s an economic development engine that’s just sitting here,” Haring said. “These are quality jobs with great benefits that would be provided for people.”

Haring said if elected to serve the 71st District, he would work with others in the state government to get the prison opened.

“We want to let people know that we’re trying,” he said.