Little Gitmo on the Prairie

Quinn: Selling prison would bring jobs to struggling area

By Zach Christman
|  Sunday, Nov 15, 2009  |  Updated 5:19 PM CDT
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A Gitmo Prison in Illinois

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A U.S sailor climbs down from a guard tower overlooking detainees at the U.S. military prison for 'enemy combatants' on October 28, 2009 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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Quinn and Durbin Discuss Selling Prison to Feds

Gov. Pat Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin defend a plan to sell a northwest Illinois prison to the federal prison system to house as many as 100 prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

Inside Thomson Correctional Facility

NBC5 goes inside the "Illinois Gitmo."
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Speaking at two news conferences today, Gov. Pat Quinn called the Obama administration's interest in housing Guantanamo Bay terror suspects in an Illinois prison "good for our state, good for our economy and good for our public safety."

"We see an opportunity.  A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the people of Illinois," Quinn said Sunday. 

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who spoke with Quinn, estimated that moving the Gitmo detainees to Illinois would result in 2,000 jobs in Thomson and 1,000 more jobs in the surrounding community.

That the Obama administration was considering using the under-capacity Thomson Correctional Center in Carrol County was first revealed by the Tribune on Friday.

"People are struggling to keep their homes. ... They're getting desperate. With the recession and the loss of jobs, they're not sure which way to turn," Durbin said, according to the Tribune. "Now they've got a chance, a fighting chance."

But on word that the feds may ship as many as 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners to northwestern Illinois, the party-line split tore wide open.

Republicans, in classic "not in my backyard" style, decry the idea as bringing a threat too close to home.

Rep. Mark Kirk didn't mince words. In a letter to President Obama, he painted a grim picture of Chicago becoming the next "ground zero for jihadist terrorsts' plots" if the prison plan goes through.

Republican candidate for governor Andy McKenna agreed.

"These are dangerous prisoners. Why bring them to Illinois?" he asked.

Dan Hynes, a Democrat who's gunning for Pat Quinn's job, took a more reserved approach, withholding judgment due to his "serious concerns."

Most Democrats, of course, are backing the President's idea to move the prisoners to federal supermax facilities in the U.S., and make good on his promise to close Gitmo.

On Sunday, Durbin said Republican opponents to the plan were fear-mongering.

"Their argument falls flat on its face.  They are unfortunately sewing the seeds of fear among people and it's totally wrong, " the senator said.  "The fact is, our prison system holds dangerous people ... and they do it successfully at the state and federal level."

Thomson Correctional Center, where the prisoners would be held, is an under-utilized facility built eight years ago. It's capable of holding 1,600 prisoners, but currently only houses 144. Quinn welcomes the idea of having the federal prisons system buy the facility, convert it, and house whomever it wants there.

Federal officials will tour the Thomson Correctional Center on Monday to help them decide whether to buy the prison.  Facilities in at least two other cities in Montana and Colorado are being considered as well.

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