By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — President Barack Obama’s proposed budget includes funds for activating the long-vacant Thomson prison.
The budget, which was submitted to Congress on Wednesday, includes $166.3 million to begin the activation of Thomson prison and two other prisons, acquire 1,000 private contract beds and to expand a program to reduce recidivism rates.
If fully funded by Congress, the President’s budget would likely cover the entire cost of upgrades and renovations to the facility. The full activation of Thomson prison is expected to take two years at a cost of $25 million in fiscal year 2014 for upgrades and renovations and $168 million in fiscal year 2015 for equipment and staffing.
U.S. legislators reacted to the decision Wednesday, which is the first step in opening the facility as a federal supermax prison.
Congressman Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, called on fellow legislators to support the president’s proposed budget for the prison.
“It is time for Washington to get out of the way of needed economic development and job creation in the region. I call on Congress to approve the funding the President has proposed and will continue to work to open Thomson,” Loebsack said.
The prison was purchased by the federal government for $165 million in October despite objections from some Republican lawmakers.
Sen. Dick Durbin, who has been working with the Obama Administration and the state of Illinois on the purchase of Thomson prison since 2009 issued a statement with U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., regarding the funds for the prison.
“It’s very clear today that President Obama views the activation of Thomson prison as a high priority for America’s prison system,” Durbin said. “The Thomson prison will help reduce serious prison overcrowding, create over 1,100 jobs and bring millions of dollars in new economic activity to Illinois.”
Bustos, who sent a letter last week to Obama urging him to include activation funds for the Thomson prison in his fiscal year 2014 budget proposal, also applauded the budget proposal.
“Thomson prison would not only alleviate overcrowding of our prison system, but it would also be an economic shot in the arm to a region that continues to struggle with high unemployment,” Bustos said. “Now that the President has signaled his support for Thomson, it is time for Congress to appropriate the funds necessary to make sure the opening of Thomson prison remains on track.”
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, D-Iowa, was not as enthusiastic about the sale.
“There are brand-new prisons sitting idle, so I’d need the rationale before supporting additional spending,” Grassley said.
According to Bureau of Prisons spokesman Edmond Ross, two employees started working at the prison earlier this month.
The prison was constructed for $140 million in 2001 by the state of Illinois to house the most severe criminal offenders. However, the majority of the prison was never occupied and sat vacant for many years due to the state’s lack of funds to operate it. Once federal officials began discussing the 1,600-bed facility, Republican lawmakers blocked the sale over concerns that the prison would house suspected terrorists from Guantanamo Bay.