The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

January 17, 2014

Prison news feels different this time

I don't blame people for being cautious this week regarding the most recent developments with the Thomson, Ill., prison.

It's not like we haven't heard this story before.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos announced this week that money is included in the $1 trillion bill making its way through Congress. It appears likely the bill will pass on bi-partisan support, meaning this is another step in the arduous process of maximizing the prison's full potential.

Sure, we've been promised a lot before, especially when the prison was built in 2001. Even since 2008, when I came to Clinton, the Thomson prison has dominated the headlines, and little has been done to make it fully operational.

But this news seems slightly different.

President Barack Obama will likely sign the legislation, meaning there will at least be some funds awarded to the prison.

That's great news.

What's not so great is that no one knows exactly how much money is being allocated to the facility.

Officials have said renovations will cost $25 million, and another $170 million will be needed for equipment and staffing the prison.

So, if the bill only releases $5 million, then the step being taken isn't as great as once perceived.

But if the money included in the bill takes up a big chunk of the $195 million needed to make the prison operational, then it appears the area is finally headed in the right direction.

The facility is likely to create 1,100 jobs, and according to a 2010 study, 35 percent of those employees would locate in Clinton.

Another 8 percent would live in Fulton, Ill., 6 percent in Thomson, and 5 percent in Clinton County outside of Clinton, as estimated by the study.

If we take the study as reality, that means 54 percent of the 1,100 employees would buy or rent homes, purchase groceries and contribute to the tax base of our area. And this doesn't take into account the amount of jobs created because of the influx of people.

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With the Clinton County Justice Coordinating Commission and the Clinton County Board of Supervisors discussing proposals to construct a new jail, do you think the time has come for Clinton County to construct such a facility?

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