Gitmo May Be Coming to Illinois Town

Federal officials looking to buy state prison to transfer Gitmo prisoners

By Nicola Orichuia
|  Saturday, Nov 14, 2009  |  Updated 11:21 AM CDT
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A maximum-security prison in Thomson, 150 miles west of Chicago, is being considered for possible detainees transferred from Guantanamo.

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The White House is considering acquiring a maximum security prison in Thomson, 150 miles west of Chicago, to house a number of terrorist suspects from Guantanamo, Cuba, the Chicago Tribune reports.

“This has emerged as a leading option,” an Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Tribune.

The Thomson Correctional Center, located on the border between Illinois and Iowa, is currently owned by the state, but sale talks have been going on between Springfield and Obama officials, some of whom will be visiting the facility, according to a press release from the governor's office.

"Senior officials of the Obama Administration will be visiting the Thomson Correction Center to see if the virtually vacant, state-of-the-art facility can be better utilized by the Federal Bureau of Prisons," the statement reads. "Over-crowding in federal prisons is a serious issue and one of the reasons why the Bureau of Prisons is interested in viewing Thomson Correction Center."

Gov. Pat Quinn, who recently included layoff notices to state prison employees as part of his $1 billion budget cuts, seems attracted to the idea of selling the facility to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

"I understand that you are still considering other options," Quinn recently wrote in a letter to President Obama and obtained by the Tribune's Washington Bureau, "but the federal Bureau of Prisons would be hard-pressed to find a similar facility with such extensive safety and security measures already in place anywhere in America."

At a cost of $145 million, the Thomson facility was completed in 2001 and includes 1,600 cells, most of which have remained unused for the past eight years.

Only 144 inmates are being held at the Thomson prison today.

Thomson would not be the first federally owned prison in Illinois. The federal government already owns a facility in the southern-Illinois town of Marion.

"If the Illinois Department of Corrections has no need for this facility, perhaps the federal government would be interested in locating a prison similar to the one in Marion," Thomson Village President Jerry Hebeler recently wrote in an open letter published in local newspapers.

But before any inmates can be transferred to Thomson or any other maximum-security facility in the country the Obama administration still needs to resolve the legal issues, such as trial in the U.S., tied to such a transfer.

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