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Prison opening to benefit many

Mayor salutes Durbin, Quinn for making deal

Published: Friday, Nov. 30, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

Now that all the election “noise” has disappeared from the media, I would like to comment on the efforts which led to the final sale of the Thomson prison to the federal government. While this was an event we had all hoped would take place, it was fantastic to see it become reality.

I would like to thank Sen. Durbin, Gov. Quinn, and their staff people for all that went into the process. I also know many local and county officials were involved in the efforts, and I would like to thank them as well.

Some might wonder, “Why should we, in Sterling, care about something that benefits Thomson?”

The answer is obvious: When one of us benefits, all of us in the region benefit from the increased opportunities. We all need to work together to make things happen for the benefit of our citizens.

Thomson prison is a great deal for federal taxpayers and a great deal for Illinois. For the federal government, Thomson prison is a cost-effective way to address serious overcrowding in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Federal high security institutions hold 53 percent more inmates than they were designed to house. Though the number of prisoners has more than doubled since 1994, the number of “super-max” beds has not increased. A situation like this poses real dangers to staff and inmates. 

A brand new facility would have cost taxpayers at least $400 million and taken more than 3 years to build. Thomson prison, on the other hand, cost $165 million and can be opened much sooner. In Illinois, the benefits of Thomson prison will be seen for years to come.

Once open, Thomson prison will provide a major boost to the local economy and create more than 1,100 good-paying jobs. Operation of the facility will have an economic impact of more than $200 million a year.

While some proposed giving Thomson prison away for free, I am glad Sen. Durbin and Gov. Quinn drove a hard bargain. For them to have done anything else would have been poor stewardship of the taxpayers’ investment in the prison.

It’s no secret that some in Congress will try to derail future funding for Thomson prison, but Sen. Durbin has made it clear that he will work to stop that effort. We need to make sure the efforts of so many are not in vain.

So again, let me say “thank you” to Sen. Durbin and all involved for making the deal. I look forward to the benefits this area will derive from the opening of Thomson prison.

Note to readers – Charles L. “Skip” Lee is mayor of Sterling.

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