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On paper, a step closer to Thomson prison opening

Federal prison facility funding included in appropriations bill

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
In this May 21, 2010, file photo, a van drives past the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson. Funding to activate the Thomson facility is included in an Omnibus Appropriations bill filed Monday. The bill now must be approved by both the U.S. House and Senate and then signed by President Obama.

STERLING – Funding to open a federal prison in Thomson is in writing and on file. Now, all that stands in the way is approval by the House and Senate.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, said in news releases Monday funding to activate the Thomson Correctional Facility is included in the Omnibus Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2014, which was filed in the House and Senate earlier in the day.

Though the bill does not detail how funding would be spent, Durbin and Bustos expressed confidence that funding for the Thomson facility’s activation remains a top priority for the Obama administration. 

As recently as November, Charles Samuels, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, repeated his intention to make the Thomson facility fully operational. Citing overcrowding at high-security facilities, Samuels said the agency desperately needs the beds at Thomson.

“Residents of Northern Illinois have been waiting too long for the job creation and economic activity that was promised when Thomson prison was built over a decade ago,” Durbin said in a release. “Once this legislation is passed by Congress and signed into law, Congresswoman Bustos and I will hold the Bureau of Prisons to their commitment to opening Thomson prison as soon as possible.”

Bustos said the prison opening would be “an economic boon for our region of Illinois.”

“I’m encouraged that this bipartisan legislation will help fund the account that could spur the activation of Thomson prison,” Bustos said. “I’ll continue to work closely with Senator Durbin and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to ensure this job-creating facility remains on track to open.”  

The full activation of Thomson prison is expected to take 3 years at a cost of $25 million for upgrades and renovations, and approximately $170 million for equipment and staffing.  

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 federal government bought it last fall.

The prison is expected to bring 1,100 jobs and $200 million in annual economic impact to the area.

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