FULTON – Expect to see "tough guys" at the new federal prison in Thomson.
That was the prediction of an official from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons during a meeting Wednesday of the Fulton Chamber of Commerce.
During a question-and-answer session, a man asked about the expected demographics of the inmates.
Jennifer Edens, the bureau official, said the inmates would be similar to those in maximum-security prisons across the country, meaning many would be drug and immigration offenders.
At most prisons, about half the inmates are white, a fifth black, and the rest from other ethnic groups, she said.
The same man inquired whether inmates' families typically moved near prisons.
"Generally, inmates' families don't move near the prison," said Elizabeth Pottios, another bureau official. "If the inmate is transferred, the family would have to uproot again. We try to locate inmates within 500 miles of home."
Another man wanted to know, "What percentage stay in the community after being released?"
Very few, the officials said. They nearly always are required to move back to the districts where they were convicted.
The bureau officials, along with U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, updated the Fulton chamber on the progress toward opening the 1,600-cell prison. The former state prison, which was never opened, is a few miles north in the village of Thomson, which is along the Mississippi River.
Residents asked when the prison would open. As soon as Congress approves the bureau's spending plan, the officials responded.
Bustos said she knew residents had waited a long time, with the journey starting in the 1990s, when Gov. Jim Edgar was in office.
"That was how many governors and how many jail sentences ago," she said. "In an area where we have too high unemployment, this can't come soon enough."
The state built the prison more than a decade ago, but couldn't afford to run it. The bureau bought it in 2012, saying it needed more space for federal offenders.