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Local Editorials

New warden welcome; federal funding is, too

The Thomson federal prison has a warden now, which represents an important step in the planned activation of the dormant maximum-security facility. Its $53.7 million federal operating budget is pretty important, too.

With not a little fanfare, Donald Hudson was introduced at a Monday news conference in Thomson as the new warden for the Thomson Correctional Center.

Hudson will play a key role in the continuing effort to get the 13-year-old maximum-security facility up and running, this time under the ownership of Uncle Sam.

Hudson is not the first warden at Thomson, whose $143 million construction by the state was completed in November 2001. 

According to SVM archives, Jack Hartwig was warden early on, but never had the chance to preside over the prison's opening because the state failed to budget any money to operate it.

Hartwig eventually retired, and Assistant Warden Vickie Wright was in charge in 2003.

In the summer of 2006, when Warden Frank Shaw was at the helm, Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced that the Thomson prison would partially open. At year's end, 125 inmates were housed in the minimum-security wing, guarded by a staff of 71.

They were a drop in the bucket for a facility designed to hold 1,800 inmates and employ 750.

In 2009, when the federal government expressed interest in buying the underused prison, the state emptied it and had it declared surplus property.

In October 2012, the federal government bought it for $165 million.

Now the prison has a new warden who actually has an operational budget to work with. The Bureau of Prisons allocated $10 million to renovate the prison and $43.7 million for staffing and equipment.

Warden Hudson's first priorities are to oversee continued facility upgrades and begin hiring 300 staffers in the first phase; an additional 800 will be hired later.

This is good news, indeed, made possible by the work of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, and his colleague in the House, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline.

Director Charles Samuels of the Federal Bureau of Prisons said it will take 2 years to bring the prison up to its new full capacity of 1,900 high-security inmates.

With 1,100 total jobs, an operational Thomson prison should finally become the economic dynamo the region has been waiting for since 2001.

Other wardens have tried and failed to open the prison in Thomson. We hope Warden Hudson can get the job done.

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