THOMSON, Ill. — The Thomson prison has a new lease on life today as Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich proposes to open the long-shuttered state prison as part of an anti-crime package in his latest state budget plan.

The governor proposes opening the Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois, which was built years ago but never has opened because of state budget woes. He wants to spend more than $7 million to get the facility ready and put 75 guards and 200 minimum-security inmates there, possibly as early as September.

The Thomson Correctional Center is a maximum-security prison. It was completed in late 2001 and, according to the Department of Corrections, cost $140 million to construct and would have an annual operating budget of about $45 million.

It is expected that 761 staff positions would be created if the state opens the prison, with an estimated $30 million spent on salary and benefits. One-third of those employees would be transferred from other state facilities.

It currently costs the state about $800,000 in annual operations expenses.

The Thomson Correctional Center, a Level 1 adult male maximum-security facility, is composed of 1,600 cells spread throughout eight cellhouses and a separate 200-bed minimum-security unit, according to the DOC 2002 annual report. The site is comprised of 146 flat acres and consists of 15 buildings, totaling 625,000 square feet.

In 2005, State Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline, Ill., called on Gov. Rod Blagojevich to open the vacant facility to prisoners displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The state took no formal action on the request.

At the time, Boland said Iowa is looking at building two or three new prisons in the coming years. Iowa has been sending surplus inmates to Missouri and Texas; Boland said Iowa and Illinois would both benefit if the surplus was instead sent to the Thomson prison.

Hopes of seeing the prison open in the near future also grew in late May 2004 thanks to a Department of Corrections memo on cost-savings measures. The memo indicated the state could save money by closing the 133-year-old prison in Pontiac, Ill., and transferring the prisoners to the vacant Thomson facility.

While the memo was downplayed by DOC officials at the time, the plan was included in the budget approved by the Illinois House.

However, Illinois Senate leaders, including Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Pontiac, lobbied heavily against closure of the Pontiac facility.

As the Legislature went into a record overtime session in 2004, opening the Thomson prison looked less and less likely and it was eventually removed from the budget.

There was little to no mention of the facility in Springfield, Ill., during 2005.

Blagojevich also is proposing spending nearly $17 million to hire more forensic scientists and improve DNA analysis, along with partnering with state universities to promote training of future scientists through scholarships and internships.

He also wants to spend $1.8 million in his separate construction plan to expand DNA testing laboratories in Springfield and Chicago, a reaction to backlogs in getting genetic evidence tested.

The governor intends to spend $3.6 million for 100 new Illinois State Police troopers to patrol roadways and go after drug users. He wants to begin purchasing more than 4,000 mobile and portable radios for police vehicles to boost statewide coverage. Blagojevich also wants to help rehabilitate meth users through $6.7 million for a 200-bed unit at Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center. The next year, the governor wants to add another 200-bed meth unit at Sheridan Correctional Center.



The Associated Press contributed to this report.