THOMSON, Ill. — Federal lawmakers paid a visit to the Administrative United States Penitentiary in Thomson on Tuesday to talk about the growing number of inmates and workers expected at the facility in the coming year.

During the visit, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said about 750 inmates now are housed at the penitentiary, which the federal government purchased from the state of Illinois in 2012. Durbin expects the facility ultimately will house up to 1,000 inmates and employ up to 600 workers. About 400 staff members work at the facility now; another 140 will be hired by the end of 2020, U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, said during the visit.

“The folks who come here, they need more places to live,” Bustos said, adding there is a great need for more housing for those workers and their families. “So a call to action for anybody who wants to develop apartments, condos, houses. We can do that right here in Carroll County, in Thomson and in the surrounding communities.”

Durbin said the topic of employee housing needs surfaced when he spoke with people at the prison.

“They need apartments. They need condos. They need homes,” Durbin said. “Well, that’s going to be part of our commitment, too, but it means building our communities on both sides of the river so that they grow in population. Something we haven’t seen in a long, long time. And all of the supportive businesses and services that come with these families being part of the Thomson facility.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who also was at Tuesday’s visit, cited the First Step Act, which was approved by the U.S. Senate in December 2018. The First Step Act, which Durbin and Grassley led into passage, establishes several prison reform programs to better prepare inmates for productive reentry into society after release. The First Step Act is touted as the most significant criminal justice reform legislation in decades.

“We want to reduce recidivism,” Grassley said of the law. “Get people prepared for life out in the community so that they can be productive tax-paying citizens. And reoriented with our family and our community. And to not go back to prison and cost the taxpayers a lot of money.”

Durbin added that the First Step Act states there will be changes in the way federal prisons are approached to make them safer and more effective.

“We’ve created assessments of each one of these inmates to find out what it takes to get them back, if we can get them back, into the normal population,” Durbin said. “And then to give them the confidence, the talent and the skills to succeed once they’re out of prison so they don’t commit another crime or create another victim. It’s an ambitious undertaking.”

Durbin said the legislation was a good and strong bipartisan effort he believes will pay off in the long run.

“We all have the same thing in mind,” Durbin said. “We want our homes and neighborhoods and communities to be safe. We want those who have committed crimes to pay for that crime but to turn their lives around and not commit another crime as long as they live. That’s what this First Step Act is all about.”


To learn more about the First Step Act go to