Herald Staff Report
The Clinton Herald
---- — THOMSON, Ill. — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos paid a visit to the village of Thomson on Thursday to discuss the future of the Thomson Correctional Facility.
Bill Dalius, assistant director for administration of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, also attended the meeting, which was aimed at discussing the progression of the prison and what steps need to be made to activate the facility.
“For the people of Thomson and the surrounding area, the activation of this prison has been a long time coming,” Durbin said. “Opening Thomson will bring much-needed jobs and economic growth to northern Illinois and reduce overcrowding in our federal prison system. The activation process will take time, but officials from the Bureau of Prisons and the Obama Administration are fully committed to opening the prison and are doing all they can to prepare for that day. I will continue doing everything I can to keep the renovating, equipping and staffing of the prison on track.”
Bustos and Durbin said to about 40 Thomson residents at the meeting Thursday that the BOP is ready to start the process of opening the prison, but are waiting on the approval of a federal budget before that can happen.
“It’s a high priority for the Bureau of Prisons,” Dalius said. “Nothing else is under construction anywhere.”
In July, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies appropriations bill, which included $166.3 million to begin the activation of the Thomson prison and two other prisons, but President Barack Obama has yet to sign a new budget including that money.
The federal government’s operation of Thomson is expected to create more than 1,100 jobs and have an economic impact on Whiteside, Lee and Ogle counties, and the city of Clinton.
Annual operation of the facility is expected to generate more than $122 million in operating expenditures (including salaries), $19 million in labor income and $61 million in local business sales.
Action on the prison would mean a major economic boost to the village of Thomson and the surrounding area, but it is something residents have been told before and they remain skeptical about the future of the federal facility.
“We’ve heard the same story before,” village Trustee Les Mitchell said. “We’re going on 13 years. It’s always been, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do it.’ Of course, that was always the state before.”
The state of Illinois built Thomson prison in 2001. But budget troubles kept it from fully opening, and its 1,600 cells housed fewer than 200 inmates before the facility was closed in preparation for a sale. The last inmates were moved out in 2010.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.