One would think that the president’s new fiscal budget would have this small town excited. President Obama has included funding to activate the Thomson Federal Prison in his 2014 fiscal budget, submitted to Congress on Wednesday. According to a letter that Congresswoman Cheri Bustos wrote to President Barack Obama on April 3, 2013, the opening of the Thomson Correctional Facility would, “add 1,100 jobs in our region and is expected to generate more than $122 million in local expenditures, $19 million in labor income, and $61 million in sales at local small businesses.”
Many local businesses spent all they had renovating their properties more than a dozen years ago in anticipation of increased traffic, only to see the opening of the prison delayed time and time again. The majority of the complex was never occupied and is still sitting vacant. The prison was constructed in 2001 on 146 acres just north of Thomson and has 1,600 beds with eight compartmentalized units designed for maximum inmate supervision and control. The compound is secured by a 12-foot exterior fence and 15-foot interior fence, which includes a dual-sided 7,000 volt electric stun fence. The federal government bought the prison from the State of Illinois in October. The Bureau of Prisons plans to use the facility as a maximum security federal prison to alleviate overcrowding.
The president’s budget includes $166 million to “begin the activation process” of three federal prisons, including Thomson. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, just under $59 million would go toward the Thomson prison, with $43.7 million earmarked for salaries and expenses, such as equipment. The rest would be used to begin renovation. The opening of Thomson prison will take two years at a cost of $25 million in 2014 and $168 million in 2015 for equipment and staffing.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., said the prison, which is in her district, would be an “economic shot in the arm,” and she urged Congress to approve the funds. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Bustos met earlier this year with Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels. Durbin said, “The new federal budget should include money for the prison.” Durbin and Bustos say they’ll work together to make sure the prison opens and brings economic development to the state.
House Representative James Sensenbrenner called the prison a “white elephant” at a subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, pointing out four other federal facilities that are either not open yet or are operating below capacity. Assistant Attorney General Lee Lofthus defended the president’s choice, stating, “Thomson is precisely the prison the government needs because, as a maximum-security facility, it would address overcrowding among high-security inmates, an acute problem.”
On February 4, 2012, at the monthly meeting of the Village of Thomson, Board of Trustees Bureau of Prisons Activation Coordinator Cathi Litcher made a suggestion to start preparing to maximize the economic and workforce development within the region by working with other organizations and agencies to share resources to educate the public (called the Thomson Talent Team Partnership). Litcher said, “To date, no positions have been posted. At this time, we do not have a date to start accepting applications. It is to our advantage to let as many people in the local commuting area know when the vacancies are listed.” Meanwhile, local citizens are taking a “wait and see” attitude, having heard much talk and little action in more than a dozen years. Even if the fiscal budget is passed, the city of Thomson will not see increased traffic until 2015.