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Senate committee OKs Thomson prison funding

Durbin: 'We still have a long way to go'

In this 2010 file photo, a van drives past the Thomson Correctional Center. A U.S. Senate committee approved funding Thursday to re-open the Carroll County prison as a federal facility.
In this 2010 file photo, a van drives past the Thomson Correctional Center. A U.S. Senate committee approved funding Thursday to re-open the Carroll County prison as a federal facility.

THOMSON – Thomson prison is one small step closer to opening.

Thursday, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved $166 million to reactivate Thomson and two other prisons, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, said in a news release.

In October, the federal government paid $165 million for the prison in Thomson, a town along the Mississippi River in Carroll County.

The state built the 1,600-cell, maximum-security prison a decade ago, then decided it couldn't afford to run it. It had been looking for a buyer for years.

The prison is expected to bring 1,100 jobs and $200 million in annual economic impact to the area, but it could be years before it opens.

Officials have said recent budget cuts could delay the opening, although Durbin, who sits on the appropriations committee, said the approval of funding is a step in the right direction.

"We still have a long way to go to bring this funding to Illinois, but we are making progress every day," Durbin said in the release.

The bill approved Thursday includes $166 million to activate Thomson prison and the other two prisons, to acquire 1,000 beds from private contractors and to expand a program to reduce recidivism rates. The amount likely would cover the entire cost of upgrades and renovations to the facility, the release said.

The full activation of Thomson prison is expected to take 2 years at a cost of $25 million in fiscal year 2014 for upgrades and renovations and $168 million in fiscal year 2015 for equipment and staffing. 

The legislation approved Thursday includes language that would require the Bureau of Prisons to notify Congress if it is not able to adhere to that schedule, the lawmakers said.

The full Senate would have to approve the spending bill, then the differences between the appropriations bills from both the Senate and the House would have to be worked out before any money goes anywhere.

The fiscal year ends Sept. 30, although it is rare that a congressional spending bill is passed before then.

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