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Senator: Thomson prison won't open soon

Contrary report ‘too optimistic,’ Durbin’s office says

THOMSON – The long-dormant Thomson prison won’t be opening anytime soon, despite a report that it would.

State Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, said this week that the prison, purchased by the federal government in October, could open this summer.

“They are planning to start hiring this summer and get operational in the next 6 months,” Smiddy told the Clinton (Iowa) Herald in a story that was republished by Sauk Valley Media in Friday editions. “This will create thousands of jobs for the area.”

However, the office of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said it will take longer to open than Smiddy indicated.

“Six months is too optimistic,” Durbin spokeswoman Christina Mulka said Friday. “It takes time to upgrade a prison that has been idle for 10 years to today’s standards and employ all the people.”

The senator’s office declined to give a specific timeline.

“I don’t want to kill any optimism,” Mulka said. “We think everything is going very smoothly. There aren’t any snags yet.”

Mulka said her office is awaiting President Barack Obama’s soon-to-be-released budget, which might indicate when the prison could be opened.

Smiddy said he received information a month ago from state officials that the prison could be operational in 6 months and that hiring would last 3 months.

“The senator’s office, I’m sure, has better awareness of the federal side of things,” said Smiddy, whose district includes Whiteside and Carroll counties.

In October, Obama bypassed Congress and designated “unobligated” money to buy the prison for $165 million.

The state built the 1,600-cell prison a decade ago, then decided it couldn’t afford to run it. It had sought a buyer for years.

Officials say the prison will have $200 million in annual economic impact, bringing 1,100 jobs.

In October, Durbin said it would take $40 million to $50 million to bring the prison up to federal standards.

Thomson, population 590, is a Carroll County town along the Mississippi River.

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