THOMSON – Hopes in this village have been raised before with promises that officials would open a never-used prison.
But a huge appropriations bill passed by both the U.S. House and Senate this week has given new cause for optimism. It includes $90 million for prison buildings and facilities, money that could pay for the opening of new lockups.
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons must report back to Congress with a spending plan 30 days after the bill is signed into law, officials say.
As recently as late 2012, Charles Samuels, director of the Bureau of Prisons, repeated his intention to make the Thomson prison fully operational, citing overcrowding at high-security facilities.
The village is ready for the opening. Its homepage links to usajobs.gov, noting that new employees of the Bureau of Prisons must be 37 or younger.
Thomson Village President Vicky Trager described herself Thursday as excited about the latest development.
“This definitely makes it seem a lot more real now,” she said. “The first question out of everyone’s mouths: ‘When? When? When?’ You never really know. We have had our hopes up before. This time, it does seem like we can start moving again.”
The full activation of the Thomson prison is expected to take 3 years at a cost of $25 million for upgrades and renovations and about $170 million for equipment and staffing.
More than a dozen years ago, the state built the 1,600-cell maximum-security prison in this Carroll County town along the Mississippi River, but couldn’t afford to run it.
The federal government bought it in 2012. When it opens, it is expected to employ 1,100 people and have a regional economic impact that extends to Whiteside, Lee and Ogle counties.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline believes the funding levels in the Bureau of Prisons budget are “robust enough” to allow for the prison’s opening, her spokesman, Colin Milligan, said.
Trager said she has been in contact with representatives from the offices of Bustos and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
“They keep assuring me that this is a high priority,” she said. “At this point, all I can be is as optimistic as possible.”